Steve Martin surely is no Humphrey Bogart. I think it is safe to assume that we can all agree on that. The “Bogie” most of us remember and love was a lone wolf, a tough-as-nails private eye, a man of few words whose brusque charm could win over any woman. While Bogart was the epitome of the 1940s detective, Steve Martin tends to be typecast as the funny if slightly neurotic guy next door, the archetypical loser to Bogart’s hero. So imagine a partial reverse spin on these two male prototypes and picture a classic film noir with Steve Martin as the tough-as-nails private detective going up against gangsters and scoundrels to solve a mysterious murder conspiracy. Sounds ludicrous? It is, in all the best ways. And it gets even better!
The name of this particular “film noir” is Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a nonsensical title for a humorous crime parody starring Steve Martin as Rigby Reardon. Prompted by his latest client, Juliet Forrest (portrayed by Rachel Ward), Reardon investigates the death of her father, scientist and cheesemaker John Hay Forrest. On his quest for the truth, he encounters both friends and enemies of “Carlotta,” a mysterious name that keeps popping up on two lists – and the list of Carlotta’s enemies grows shorter and shorter by the minute as one after the other, they somehow end up dead.
So much for the plot of the film. What really sets Dead Men apart from any other comedy/crime drama/film noir/parody though, is the impressive list of renowned actors playing supporting characters. Next to big names such as Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis, you have Barbara Stanwyck playing Juliette’s older sister, Humphrey Bogart as Rigby’s mentor Philip Marlowe, as well as Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster as lovers finding themselves on opposite sides of “Carlotta.” Now those of you who know at least one of these actors can do the math when I say that Dead Men was released in 1982. By then, Humphrey Bogart had been dead for over 25 years, yet the modern miracle of film editing allows him, as well as other 1940s legends, to once again grace the movie screen together.
The creative team of Dead Men wrote an original screenplay around scenes from 18 different movies, all released between 1941 and 1950, and simply edited those scenes so that they, together with newly shot scenes of Steve Martin and Rachel Ward, would create a collage-of-sorts. The end result was an entirely new film that is both hilariously over the top as well as a delightful homage to old black-and-white detective film when men were hyper-masculine wisecracking misanthropists and women were either damsels in distress or wicked femme fatales.
So for those of you who enjoy comedies and/or classic movies, be sure to check out Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, it is sure to be unlike anything you have ever seen before.