Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1982 (September 21, 2021)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
One of Steve Martin and Carl Reiner’s funniest collaborations, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid came after the success of The Jerk, but also after Martin’s dramatic turn in Pennies from Heaven. He was one of the biggest comedy stars at the time and his work with Reiner offers some of the most inspired and memorable shtick of the era. This time around, they take aim at the hard-boiled detective genre. The film was shot in black and white and utilized clips of actors in mystery thrillers of the past to make up its plot, including Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, Veronica Lake in The Glass Key, Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, and James Cagney in White Heat, among many others. Steve Martin’s antics are also amplified by the presence of the beautiful Rachel Ward. They’re dynamite together onscreen, fully embracing the premise and feeling right at home in 1940s film noir. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was a minor success upon its initial theatrical release, though it didn’t do quite the business that it perhaps should have. Reiner and Martin would team twice more for The Man with Two Brains and All of Me, but sadly they wouldn’t collaborate again. More’s the pity.
Private detective Rigby Reardon (Martin) has just met Juliet (Ward), a damsel in distress who has shown up in his office looking to hire him and investigate her father’s death. She believes that her father (George Gaynes), a noted scientist and cheesemaker, was murdered. Reardon hits the streets, questioning anyone and everyone he can while heeding the advice of his friend and mentor, Marlowe (Bogart), to not fall in love with clients. Despite himself, Reardon can’t resist Juliet’s charms. As their love blossoms, he soon discovers a secret plot involving Nazis, led by Field Marshal William von Kluck (Reiner), which is to use Juliet’s father’s knowledge of a certain dairy product to help them destroy the United States… starting with Terre Haute, IN.
Filmed in Detecto-Vision (per the film’s original poster), Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid comes to Blu-ray for a second time from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Universal previously released a bare bones Blu-ray of the film in 2017, though it was available on the format outside the US a couple of times prior. Kino’s release is sourced from the same dated master. Detail isn’t nearly as crisp as a fresh scan and the film’s grain is dialed back a bit, as is customary with Universal masters of this vintage. However, nothing’s been scrubbed away completely. Fine detail is still very good, even great in certain shots. The quality of the film clip inserts range greatly (something that Carl Reiner was purportedly never happy with), but are inherent to the source. One might argue that it adds a certain aesthetic charm to the film’s comedic sensibilities. Meanwhile, blacks and whites offer clear delineation with nice gradations in between. The key difference between the previous Universal disc and this release is the contrast and overall brightness. The Kino disc is ever so slightly darker, but the image is otherwise identical; mostly stable and clean outside of the inserts and a few light scratches. It’s a solid presentation, but one can’t help but wonder what modern restoration efforts could do for a film like this.
The audio is provided in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English. Outside of occasional flutter (which stood out less than half a dozen times), it’s a pleasant experience. Dialogue exchanges are clear, sound effects have decent impact, and Miklos Rozsa’s wonderful score comes through with vibrancy. From the whoopee machine to the tongue shaving to the preparing of Rigby Reardon’s famous java, everything resonates well. The only drawback to the soundtrack are the inserts, which offer an assortment of qualities. Otherwise, it’s a nice track.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Allan Arkush and Daniel Kremer
- TV Spots (Upscaled SD – 3 in all – 1:34)
- Radio Spots (HD – 4 in all – 1:59)
- Teaser (HD – 1:47)
- Trailer (HD – 2:01)
- A Simple Twist of Fate Trailer (SD – :34)
- Where’s Poppa? Trailer (SD – 2:55)
Filmmakers Allan Arkush and Daniel Kremer dutifully provide an audio commentary for the film. Kremer is far more interested in delving into the history of the production, its cast and crew, and its composer. Arkush is a little more interested in commenting upon the film itself, but also providing facts of his own. The two men are recording via Zoom and tend to interrupt each other, but they still offer plenty of valuable information. Also included are the hilarious TV and radio spots (most of them narrated by Steve Martin), as well as the rarely-seen “Buttometer” teaser trailer and the film’s theatrical trailer. There are also two trailers for other Kino Lorber Blu-ray releases. The Blu-ray disc sits inside a blue amaray case with double-sided artwork, featuring the 1982 theatrical poster on the front and the cover of the 1981 promotional booklet on the reverse.
There are also a couple of things not included from other releases, but not many. Not carried over from Universal’s DVD release is a set of production notes, and missing from an overseas release is a recent interview with Carl Reiner. The TV version of the film is noted to have a few extra moments in it as well, so count that as missing too (if it could even be found).
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is one of my favorite comedy films, and seeing it finally get some much-needed love on home video here in the US brings a smile to my face. Kino Lorber’s disc offers the film with a fine transfer a nice little extras package, making it an essential pick-up, especially for those who skipped the previous bare bones Blu-ray release. All I need now is $11,500 and a kiss on the lips from Carmen Miranda. Woof!
- Tim Salmons
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