When he passed away last year, Carl Reiner left behind an impressive legacy in comedy on TV and the silver screen. More than just the father of actor and director Rob Reiner, he was an accomplished writer of TV comedy (Your Show of Shows, The Dick Van Dyke Show) as well as attracting notices for his efforts as an actor and director; over his lifetime, he was the recipient of 11 Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award, 2 honorary awards from the Writers Guild of America and an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of America. As a feature film director, he was best known for his collaboration with Steve Martin on four films – Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid being among the four. Universal has previously released the movie on Blu-ray, but Kino has licensed the film for a Special Edition treatment.
The Production: 4.5/5
When noted scientist and cheesemaker John Hay Forrest dies in a car accident, his daughter Juliet (Rachel Ward) believes he was murdered. Looking for answers, she turns to private investigator Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) to look into the case; what he turns up is a list of “Friends” and “Enemies of Carlotta” that has him crossing paths with some of the most familiar faces to ever grace a film noir movie. But the case takes more than a few twists and turns, leading to an island off of the coast of Peru, where a deadly secret plot is revealed that threatens the safety of every man and (cleaning) woman in the United States from Los Angeles to Terre Haute, Indiana!
For their follow up to their rousing success The Jerk (1979), Steve Martin and Carl Reiner conceived Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, an affectionate and very humorous spoof of the film noir genre. Their script – which they co-wrote with George Gipe – combined the original premise with footage from 18 different noir films from the 1940’s and 1950’s to create a unique collage; cinematographer Michael Chapman had to match the quality new footage to that of the archival footage in order to make it as seamless as possible (a feat which is remarkably well accomplished here). Reiner also had the talents of production designer John DeCuir, composer Miklós Rózsa and costume designer Edith Head – the latter two making their final film contributions here – at his disposal, creating an atmosphere that’s true to the noir genre he’s sending up here. There’s really not much to complain about here – if you don’t have a working knowledge of film noir, the film is funny enough by itself even though some of the references don’t make sense at first, but if you do, then it’s a total riot! In short, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid showcases two comedic talents working at the height of their powers that transforms what could’ve been a one joke movie into something fresh and extraordinary that’s fun with each viewing.
Fresh off of a successful dramatic turn in Pennies from Heaven (1981), Steve Martin has one of his funniest performances as Rigby Reardon; despite having never been nominated for a competitive Academy Award, he has received an honorary Oscar in 2013. After making an impression in Burt Reynolds’ Sharky’s Machine (1981), Rachel Ward has another one plum part as the client who Rigby falls in love with, despite the advice of Marlowe. In addition to directing and co-scripting, Carl Reiner also steps in front of the camera as a butler who turns out to be a Nazi Field Marshal with a devious plan; rounding out the cast – in the new footage – are Reni Santori as Carlotta policeman Carlos Rodriguez, George Gaynes in a lineless performance as Dr. Forrest and Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith as a double for Veronica Lake (The Glass Key) in one scene. The famous names and faces appearing in the archive footage here include Alan Ladd (This Gun for Hire), Barbara Stanwyck (Sorry, Wrong Number), Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend), Ava Gardner (The Killers & The Bribe), Burt Lancaster (The Killers), Humphrey Bogart (The Big Sleep, In a Lonely Place & Dark Passage), Cary Grant (Suspicion), Ingrid Bergman (Notorious), Bette Davis (Deception), Lana Turner (Johnny Eager & The Postman Always Rings Twice), Edward Arnold (Johnny Eager), Kirk Douglas (I Walk Alone), Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity), James Cagney (White Heat), Joan Crawford (Humoresque), Charles Laughton & Vincent Price (The Bribe); keep your eyes peeled in the archive footage for Brian Donlevy, Evelyn Varden (The Glass Key), Jeff Corey, Charles McGraw, John Miljan, William Conrad (The Killers), Wally Brown (Notorious) and Edmond O’Brien (White Heat), all of whom are uncredited here.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio for this release. Film grain is organic, with gray scales and fine details represented faithfully; there’s minimal instances of scratches, vertical lines, dirt and tears present here, mostly in scenes where archival footage is utilized. This release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video, besting both the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue is both strong and clear, with sound effects and Miklós Rózsa’s score – with a rearrangement of the Jimmy McHugh fanfare of the 1936-1945 Universal logo by James Horner – all given a faithful representation as well: there’s little to no instances of distortion, crackling or hissing present here. This release also likely represents the best the movie will ever sound on home video, also another improvement over previous incarnations.
Special Features: 3/5
Commentary by filmmaker Allan Arkush and film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer – Recorded for this release, Arkush and Kremer share some details on the film’s production, identify which films whose clips are used in the movie and some humorous banter between the two.
Radio Spots (4) (1:59)
TV Spots (3) (1:34)
Theatrical Trailer (2:01)
Teaser Trailer (1:47) – The “Butt-o-meter” trailer makes its first home video appearance here.
Bonus KLSC Trailers – A Simple Twist of Fate & Where’s Poppa?
A small hit at the box office with some critical praise, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is both a showcase of the talents of Steve Martin and Carl Reiner and also a very hilarious send up of the film noir genre. Kino has done the film justice with this Blu-ray release, which features a solid HD transfer, an informative and entertaining commentary track as well as the rare teaser trailer not seen on previous home video releases. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from the previous DVD release.
Amazon.com: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid [Blu-ray] : Alan Ladd, Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, Carl Reiner, Reni Santoni, George Gaynes, Charles Picerni Sr., George Sawava, Ron Spivey, Frank McCarthy, Adrian Ricard, Gene Labell, Britt Nilsson, Charlie Picerni, Carl Reiner, William E. McEuen, David V. Picker, Benedict Carver, Steven Paul: Movies & TV
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