Saturday, August 10, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Twenty-two - Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, "It's always the Nazis... unless it's a dame."

I want to love Steve Martin and Carl Reiner's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, but I find I can only like it.

As a high concept parody of Film Noir, DMDWP is a fun send up to the old detective movies of the black and white era, even going so far as to feature direct cameos from a dozen or more Noir films with high profile actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Veronica Lake, Ingrid Bergman, Vincent Price, and more.

It's hard to call them true cameos, though, as they're really clever little pastiches of scenes ripped directly from films like Notorious, White Heat, and The Lost Weekend. While the composites and cuts that bring Martin's character Rigby Reardon together with these classic film stars in their own pictures are often noticeably rough, they're still well enough done to only prove a minor distraction.

Sadly, what proves to be a major distraction is the scriptwriting that tries to tie the dozen or more mystery films from yesteryear together with DMDWP often leads to flat and random jokes about stale bread or fake names.

I think the worst for me was when Rigby tumbles into White Heat with James Cagney. While it was mildly funny to see Martin in drag trying to fake as Cagney's mother, the movie swiftly takes advantage of the prison break in White Heat and Cagney shouts out the wrong name. Maybe I missed it, but I don't remember the new name being lampshaded at all by Martin and it's forgotten in the heat of the moment by a quick cut to Rachel Ward and the third iteration of her "bullet sucking" gag.

Like many detective films, the story meanders wherever it wants to, only more so thanks to the device of the classic film inserts. Each time, it returns the audience to the main plot and the dangerous romance between Martin and Ward to maintain some semblance of continuity, but thanks to both the confusing film devices and weakly arcing narrative, it never feels cohesive or whole.

But that's a part of the joke, too, as many pulp detective novels and films had silly twists and superfluous characters that fluttered in and out of the stories they had brief moments in. I like that meta quality, but it never really lets the film settle into something great. The concept dominates the film instead of supporting it.

Still, as cheesy as it gets overall, I did really enjoy seeing Martin and Reiner (along with third writer, George Gipe) string all this disparate scenes from film after film into one cornball of a Noir sendup. I just wish it was a strong as yet another Noir parody... The Naked Gun.

Unfortunately, lot of these movies have been forgotten over the past fifty years, even though they star some of the greatest (or most recognizable) actors of the century.

To be honest, I had never even heard of The Bribe, but I suddenly want to track it down to see the real story by Vincent Price's Latin American misadventure... and the same goes for Lana Turner in Johnny Eager and Joan Crawford in Humoresque.

Back to the film at hand, though, at the very least DMDWP makes me laugh quite a bit and at odd times. It takes the essence of Film Noir... crime, violence, and thinly veiled sexual tension... and works with the style to make trope jokes that hit well enough.

When you make your movie title into a Chekov's Gun, though, you really should deliver on it more than a single third act line.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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