Monday, May 21, 2012

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin): When I arrived in Carlotta, I thought of the words Marlowe had said to me over 15 years ago: Dead men don't wear plaid. Huh. Dead men don't wear plaid. I still don't know what it means.

In 1982, if you were a fan of old movies, especially film noir and detective stories, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" was made for you.

Steve Martin and Carl Reiner created a spoof that featured clips of stars of the '40s like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis and others. Dialogue was written around some of their classic — and not so classic — movie lines.

It was a silly movie, really, but it was clever, too, sort of stories within stories. It was all a rather flimsy excuse for taking a bunch of unrelated movie lines and writing dialogue around them.

Like, for example, when Martin's character had a conversation with Grant (via a film Grant made 40 years earlier). In the 1982 story, Grant insisted he had to give up his seat because the smoking of his companions bothered him:

"You don't smoke, do you?" Grant asked.

"No, I have tuberculosis," Martin replied.

"Oh, thank heaven for that," Grant said.

And there were — nudge, nudge, wink, wink — exchanges between Martin and co–star Rachel Ward that did a lot more than hint at sexual fireworks.

Early in the film, for example, Ward came to Martin's office and fainted. Martin placed her on a couch and started feeling her upper torso. She came to and said, "What are you doing?"

"Adjusting your breasts," Martin replied. "You fainted and they ... shifted all outta whack."

"Thank you," Ward said.

"You're welcome," Martin answered.

At the end of the movie, Ward returned the favor. She and Martin were locked in an ardent embrace after all the loose ends had been tied together, and she slipped her hand out of sight of the camera.

"What are you doing?" Martin asked.

"Adjusting your willie," Ward replied. "When you fell through the window, it shifted out of whack."

I didn't see the movie when it was at the theaters. I had just finished college, and I was busy setting up my new home in a new town. It was probably a year or two later, when it was showing on TV, that I saw it for the first time.

Being a lifelong fan of B&W movies, as well as many of the stars who appeared in them, I was already familiar with some of the lines around which jokes in the movie were written — and I could see many of them coming.

I didn't laugh any less just because I knew what was coming. It was sort of like the humor in "Murder By Death," which poked fun at the famous film detectives but didn't use actual clips from classic movies. I have seen "Murder By Death" many times, and I always laugh at the same parts. It's the same with "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid."

Or any well done parody.