Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 227: Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1949) - Rank 3.5/5


Before setting out to write a review of this film, I endeavored to recall what it was about - to bitter defeat. This isn't a negative strike against Carl Reiner's film noir homage per se; it's a way of pointing out the fact that the plot is purely a incidental means (at times, almost an inconvenience) of tying together vignettes as well as cameos by long-dead celebrities. Steve Martin stars as Rigby Reardon, a private eye contracted by potential femme fatale Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) to investigate the disappearance/death of her father, a famed cheese scientist...and Rigby investigates...

The humor in the film is typical of most of Martin's other endeavors - laugh-out-loud moments peppered between feeble attempts at lampoonery. The degree to which that ratio shifts is in direct correlation to the film's entertainment value (ugh...I think I just reduced all Steve Martin comedy to a simple algorithm). With me, his simple bits are the best, such as a moment where he decides to prepare a cup of his "famous java" for Burt Lancaster and the bag of coffee grounds continuously pours out for over a minute. And no, Lancaster technically isn't in the film, but that's where Carl Reiner's genius comes in.

Employing vintage sets and lighting, as well as the costuming prowess of the great Edith Head, he not only pays tribute to the classic film noirs of Hollywood, he recreates them. He does so in a manner so perfect that he's able to insert scenes of vintage films into his own - ranging from the quintessential, such as "Double Indemnity" to the obscure, such as "The Bribe." As a result, while Ava Gardner or James Cagney never appear on screen with Steve Martin, cutaway shots allow them to costar with the silver-haired comedian. Just like Martin's gags, some of these cameos feel rather forced, but when they work, it's nothing short of brilliant.

Watch the Trailer

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