Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid



For some of these movies, I have to rack my brain to try and remember where I saw them. In other cases, a trip to the library is required to look at old newspaper movie listings. But I remember May 23rd, 1982 with a lot of clarity, and bits of that day come to mind like they happened yesterday.

It was a Sunday, and my dad and I went to a matinee showing of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid at the Regency III downtown. The Regency III, unlike the Regency I, was a really nice old theater. Small, but with good seating and a pretty good sound system. I would end up seeing some pretty influential movies there in the coming years, including The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Eventually, it turned into a stage theater (and I saw a few plays there too, including Burn This, and something by Mamet--maybe Oleanna?), and is now a nightclub called Ruby Skye. Haven't gone; doubt I ever will. The odor of Drakkar Noir would probably be way too much to bear.

Pennies From Heaven, another Steve Martin movie, was the first movie I featured on this blog. As I mention there, I was a huge Steve Martin fan growing up. There were two big comedians in the late 70s and early 80s: Steve Martin and Robin Williams, and despite liking "Mork & Mindy" just fine, I didn't dig Robin Williams as a comedian much, (still don't, frankly). I was a Steve Martin gal all the way, so much so that I was a member of his official fan club, (oh yes), and would end up having a lifesize cardboard Steve Martin advertisement for The Jerk in my possession for more years than I care to admit to.

So, I was excited about Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid because it was Martin's return to comedy after the bleak Pennies From Heaven. And I can thank Dead Men... for offering a big introduction to the genre of film noir and all those Hollywood classics. The movie is a noir spoof that edits Martin into scenes from old movies, creating a new plot, and some very funny moments. It's not seamless, but being that it was all done old school, with no computer enhancements, it's damned effective, and in fact, I find it a lot more convincing than more recent things that try to bring old stars to life, (like that weird Charlize Theron commercial that features Marilyn Monroe.) It helped that Edith Head was the costumer on the movie, (and in fact, it was the last movie she ever worked on), and she was able to match wardrobes perfectly.

Here's a pretty clever bit that utilizes dialogue from a movie, (totally drawing a blank on which one), in a hilarious way:



The company my dad worked for did merchandising, and I ended up with some stuff related to the movie, including posters, pins, and this plastic coffee mug, which still sits on my desk.


The "Famous Java" label is in reference to Martin's Rigby Reardon character's coffee, which is a very unique blend. He starts to make a batch for Burt Lancaster in this scene:



The movie is readily available on DVD, (unfortunately not on Netflix Instant, though), and is well worth a watch. It's pretty silly, of course, but it's also a lot of fun.

After the movie my dad and I ate at a restaurant on the corner. I think at the time, it was a Miz Brown's Country Kitchen, (it eventually became a Max's, which recently shut its doors as well), and part of the dining room was sunken, so that if you looked out the windows, they were above you, and all you could see were peoples legs and feet as they walked by. We ate and talked about old movies and movie stars, like Alan Ladd, (my dad has the same first name), and how Ladd was considered short for movie stars of the time, and was therefore perfectly paired with Veronica Lake, who was teeny tiny...It was a fun day.

I would eventually start to watch all the movies that were featured in the Dead Men..., and read about all those old stars, (Lauren Bacall's autobiography was a personal fave), in large part because of this silly satire starring Steve Martin. Which ain't such a bad thing.

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