A good-natured spoof, in glorious black and white, on the detective genre, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid attempted (with varying degrees of success) to recreate film noir by splicing into its narrative, clips from seventeen noir movies of 1940s vintage.
Thus hero Steve Martin, as a ten dollar-a-day gumshoe called Rigby Reardon, is able to call on Humphrey Bogart’s Philip Marlowe to help him solve the murder of sultry Rachel Ward’s father.
For most of the time, the forties footage was felicitously chosen from such memorable examples of the genre as This Gun For Hire (1942), Sorry Wrong Number (1948), The Killers (1946), The Big Sleep (1946), Deception (1946), Double Indemnity (1944) and White Heat (1949) – and featured stars such as Alan Ladd, Burt Lancaster, Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Barbara Stanwyck, Cary Grant, Veronica Lake, Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Fred MacMurray, James Cagney, Joan Crawford and Charles Laughton.
Yet despite (or maybe because of) the wealth of material chosen by director Carl Reiner, the story that these clips embellished had no real momentum of its own and, by the final fade, all that audiences were left with was a certain curiosity value.
Top-billed Martin did the best he could with the original material, though leading lady Rachel Ward had little going for her apart from her stunning good looks.
Director Carl Reiner also appeared in the film as an Otto Preminger-type Field Marshall, with George Gaynes, Frank McCarthy, Adrian Ricard and Charles Picerni in it too.
The costumes were by Edith Head (whose last film it was, and to whom it is dedicated).
Field Marshal Von Kluck