Hawks had recently completed To Have and Have Not, and the two got into a discussion of noir projects – as Hawks had with Faulkner about horror. Hawks had Bogart and just about anyone else he desired for Big Sleep, but Reiner made a bet that he could do a bigger, better and (strangely) funnier project.
And thus came about one of the truly great Hollywood noir comedies – Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, which opened at the Chinese in October of 1946.
Reiner had called in every favor owed, and pulled together an extraordinary cast. Where Hawks had Bogart, Bacall, Martha (“She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up”) Vickers, and Dorothy Malone…
Reiner was able to pull in talent for bits (adding measurably to foreign pre-sales) from the likes of Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Veronica Lake, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Edward Arnold, Kirk Douglas, Fred MacMurray, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, William Conrad, Charles McGraw, Jeff Corey, John Miljan, Brian Donlevy, Norma Varden, Edmond O’Brien, and a special one-up to his friend Hawks, Humphrey Bogart.
The film turned out to be comic masterpiece, which several of the actors apparently never fully understood, and also confused critics.
It wouldn’t be for another 36 years for the film to blossom and find a proper audience, when it was re-cut at Universal, adding some modern players – Steve Martin and Rachel Ward – and finally winning over audiences.
It’s actually a bit difficult to discern some of the added material, which unlike Ambersons and a totally different photographic style, had Michael Chapman perfectly lighting and reproducing the work John Seitz.
One for the ages, and finally available via Kino, albeit via an older transfer.
My advice, grab a copy, sit back and don’t pixel peep.
Image – 4
Audio – 5
Pass / Fail – Pass
Upgrade from DVD – Yes
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