A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 5: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

Today’s movie offering is a throwback to the 80’s, a time when film makers had to be clever. This movie is an obscure one from Steve Martin. One of his funniest movies, it’s a loving tribute to the film noir genre made with some of the luminaries of the genre without computer aid (which makes it even more of a marvel).

Steve Martin plays Rigby Reardon, a typical down and out of his luck detective that populated the hardboiled mysteries of the Golden Age. Hired by the dark lady Juliet Forest (played by Rachel Ward), he must find her father’s killer – a noted scientist and cheese-maker. Armed with only a list of Friends and Enemies of Carlotta, Reardon and his assistant Philip Marlowe (yes, that Marlowe) uncover a sinister plot to push the world in war.

I’m being cagy about the plot because I don’t want to give away too much, but this is a film that should be in anyone’s library who is interested in technical movie making. By splicing together bits and pieces from other movies, and taking advantage of forced perspective-style shots, a new movie has been cobbled together.

I’ve always loved this movie and I try to have it in whatever iteration of my movie library takes. Another one that I have seen that follows this same style is Woody Alan’s Zelig – which if I can ever get a good copy of it, I will certainly review it here. In this movie, there is a message that sadly still bears repeating.

In Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, there are several messages:

1) Steve Martin is not as good looking as a blonde woman as he thinks he is.

2) This movie is a lot funnier than I remember. Then again, the last time I saw it was when I was 9 and more than a few jokes went over my head.

3) A dry delivery is a wonder and joy to behold.

Steve Martin’s approach to his character and the delivery has been one of the chief influences of my own humor (the other is Monty Python) in my writing and occasional acting. Gag-a-minute movies like Airplane! Are great, but there is something about Martin saying something outrageous with a stone serious look and tome.

In this age where almost everything can be done with computers, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a very fresh breath of air (“You need a cup of my java” has a great attention twisting sight gag, as well as being one of the better running jokes if you watch everything). Suspending my disbelief for this movie is surprisingly easy, and the reward is a subtle jab at a major (?) American city.

Is you want to take a break from computer enhanced effects, sketched explosions and million-dollar emoting by people in a mo-cap suit – watch Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid from Steve Martin at the height of his powers. You will not be disappointed. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find some other hidden black and white gems.