Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid – 1982


My Review

—A Must See for Any Classics Fan—

Your Honorary Bogie Cameo Fix:

Bogie Cameo



Director: Carl Reiner

The Lowdown

A private detective (Steve Martin) stumbles across an evil organization while investigating a man’s death.

What I Thought

It’s been at least fifteen or twenty years since I’ve seen this one, and I have to say that my appreciation for the film has grown immensely. This is primarily because I’ve now seen almost all of the classic films referenced within the film in the last two decades.

Using clips and splicing in footage from nineteen different films from the Classic Hollywood era (including a trio from Bogart – The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and In a Lonely Place), Director Carl Reiner and leading man Steve Martin have assembled a spoof/parody/homage of the early 30s and 40s Film Noir detective movies. Using over the shoulder shots, intercutting phone conversations, and actually inserting Martin into the train scene from Suspicion with Cary Grant, a large number of classic era stars take on new roles as friends and enemies of Martin’s no-nonsense private eye.

Is the footage used seamlessly? No. The stock used for the classic films looks much more aged and sometimes dimmer than the modern day shots, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how well the dialogue works, and how much fun Martin and Director Reiner seem to be having with writing and re-writing a script as they go along to make all the famous clips fit. Any fan of classic films will have a blast trying to pick out which clips come from which films.

Being a spoof, the real question here is, Is it funny? If you’re a fan of Steve Martin’s comedy films from the 80s (and how could you not be?) you’ll think it’s hilarious. There’s plenty of clever highbrow mixed in with try-not-to-laugh lowbrow humor. Martin’s in the prime of his comedy career and his timing is flawless. And seeing some of Hollywood’s greatest legends taken out of context will bring more smiles, chuckles, and outright laughs than you can imagine.

Among the classic actors appearing from film clips are Ingrid Bergman, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Veronica Lake, Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyk, and Lana Turner – as well as Hollywood’s number one star – Humphrey Bogart, and many others.

The Bogart Factor

Although footage is also used from Dark Passage and In a Lonely Place, Bogart is playing Phillip Marlowe from The Big Sleep. The catch? Instead of being the top dog in his detective agency, Bogart now seems to be the subordinate lackey for Steve Martin’s subdued and cynical private dick.

There’s a funny bit about Bogart not wearing a tie, but most of the Bogie magic comes from his scenes in The Big Sleep when he’s on the phone – therefore giving Martin ample opportunity to make it seem as if he’s on the other line with the great detective. Supposedly there’s a great deleted scene that was added back for television where Martin gives Bogart a verbal dressing down for being an old fogey as the new generation of private eyes is taking over, but my $5.00 Walmart discount bin copy didn’t contain any extras, so I’m going to have to seek out the alternate version.

The Cast

Steve Martin plays private eye Rigby Reardon. Interviews quote Martin as saying that he didn’t want to watch any classic films before he performed so that he wouldn’t “act like Bogart,” but you can still see quite a bit of influence in his portrayal. The comedy works here because Martin plays even the most outlandish situations deadpan straight – unlike The Jerk where his over-the-top performance is what generates most of the laughs.

Rachel Ward plays the femme fatale here, Juliet Forrest, who hires Martin to find out why her father died and also serves as the main love interest. Ward has a classic look and acting style that could have easily fit into films from the 30s and 40s, but as this one’s a comedy, almost all of the character development takes a back seat to achieving laughs. She’s good here, but doesn’t have a ton to work with.

Carl Reiner appears as the villain Field Marshall VonKluck, and I won’t ruin too much about the end by going into his involvement with the plot, but rest assured, everything you love about Reiner’s wit and acting style is here.

Reni Santoni has a small, but hilarious part towards the end of the film as a South American policeman who is dead set on making sure Martin has clean pajamas.

And I’d be remiss not to mention that this was the last film that acclaimed costume designer Edith Head worked on. Head’s career spanned decades back to the Classic Hollywood era, where she even worked on In a Lonely Place with Bogart!

Classic Bogie Moment

Okay, so Bogart wasn’t actually in the scene here, but it’s nice to know that the world’s greatest hard boiled detective has a sensitive side! Who knew that Marlowe was such an accomplished cross stitcher?

Marlow Crosssticth Marlowe Cross Sticth 2

The Bottom Line

If you’re a comedy fan, classics fan, or Bogart fan, this one’s well worth it!