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Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is an incredibly adventurous project from Carl Reiner and Steve Martin. I think some credit must be given simply for undertaking a project that, realistically, had no chance to succeed. A film noir send up, partially original shoots and partially clips from noir classics, the film is seamlessly done. The idea of using clips of such stars as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck and, oh the list goes on forever, is an inspired one and came years before the same technique was used ghoulishly to sell vacuum cleaners and popcorn.

DMDWP is anything but ghoulish. A send up and a love letter to noir masterpieces, the film uses many of the tropes of the genre, from multiple mickies slipped, to the reveal of just who secretly runs the whole scheme. The film plumbs the gambit of these and to good effect in general, if perhaps they go to the bullet removal scene once too often.

I know the film isn’t considered much among viewers and it truthfully is its own worst enemy. If you remind viewers of such great films as The Big Sleep, The Killers and Double Indemnity you had better have some great material to follow that up. DMDWP has some very good material but I wouldn’t call any of it great. It suffers in comparison here, and possibly due the previous collaboration of Reiner and Martin, the timeless The Jerk. When you set a bar that high, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid just won’t do. Still, I think it is unfairly derided to a degree. Many of the jokes are perfect and the film keeps moving at the proper noir pace so as to never linger on any failed joke for too long. I would say it is worth viewing to fans of the genre, Martin or Reiner but might leave casual viewers a little cold. 3 stars



  1. I don’t think you are giving the movie enough credit. I don’t think it was ever meant to be compared through the same lens that movies like double indemnity our view through. But rather one of the best spoofs out there. You are correct, that the use of clips from many other movies is totally seamless, which makes dead men don’t wear plaid that much more novel.

    The film is originality speaks for itself as I am aware of only one other series that comes close to using Steve Martin’s technique and that was HBO’s first in-house series entitled “Dream On,” one of my favorites even today.

    I think that it boils down to me like in the movie a little more than you perhaps. either way, fact that you posted a fine review of this classic, is good enough to you instant credibility in my book .

    • Well, actually, I was trying to defend the movie. I know it has a less than sterling reputation among many viewers. Rainer’s not the director that most of the noir specialists were, not would he try to be. I was just saying that some of the film may suffer in comparison, which even if unintended is still inevitable.

      Thanks for your comments, though, you do make a ood point.

  2. And that would be “Reiner” the director, and a “good” point. Early here…

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