In the opening scene, John Hay Forrest (George Gaynes), noted scientist and cheesemaker, dies in a single-vehicle car accident (represented by the car wreck scene from Keeper of the Flame). In the next scene, private investigator Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) is reading a newspaper when Forrest’s daughter, Juliet (Rachel Ward), enters his office and faints when the paper’s headline reminds her of her father’s death.
Upon coming to, she hires Rigby to investigate the death, which she thinks was murder. In Dr. Forrest’s lab, Rigby finds two lists, one titled “Friends of Carlotta” and the other “Enemies of Carlotta”, as well as an affectionately autographed photo of singer Kitty Collins, whose name appears on one of the lists. His search is interrupted by a man posing as an exterminator (Alan Ladd, in This Gun for Hire), who shoots Rigby in the arm and frisks the lists from the seemingly dead investigator.
Rigby manages to find his way to Juliet’s house, where she sucks out the bullet, snakebite-style, and points Rigby to the club at which Kitty sings. Juliet also reveals a note to her father from her alcoholic brother-in-law, Sam Hastings, which in turn reveals that Dr. Forrest gave him a dollar bill “for safekeeping”. Despite warnings that the mentally disturbed Leona will not be of much use, Rigby calls Leona, who after a rambling discussion, hangs up (Barbara Stanwyck, in Sorry, Wrong Number). On the way out, Juliet asks Rigby to leave further news with her butler or cleaning woman. Mention of the latter causes Rigby to go berserk due to his own father running off with the cleaning woman and his mother dying of a broken heart.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a 1982 comedy-mystery film directed by Carl Reiner. Starring Steve Martin and Rachel Ward, the film is both a parody of and an homage to film noir and the pulp detective movies of the 1940s. The name of the film itself parodies the enigmatic titles of the hard-boiled detective story series of Cool and Lam, by pulp writer Erle Stanley Gardner under the pen name A.A. Fair.
Edited by Bud Molin, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is partly a collage film, incorporating clips from 19 vintage films. They are combined with more recent footage of Martin and other actors similarly shot in black-and-white, with the result that the original dialogue and acting of the classic films have now become part of a completely different story.
Among the actors who appear from classic films are Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Brian Donlevy, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Burt Lancaster, Charles Laughton, Fred MacMurray, Ray Milland, Edmond O’Brien, Vincent Price, Barbara Stanwyck, and Lana Turner.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Starring: Steve Martin, Rachel Ward, Reni Santoni, Carl Reiner, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Brian Donlevy, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Burt Lancaster, Ray Milland, Edmond O’Brien, Vincent Price, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner
Screenplay by: Carl Reiner, George Gipe, Steve Martin
Cinematography by: Michael Chapman
Film Editing by: Bud Molin
Music by: Miklós Rózsa, Steve Goodman
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: May 21, 1982