A hommage to film noir by Carl Reiner and Steve Martin
"Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" was Carl Reiner's second collaboration with Steve Martin after The Jerk (All of me was to follow) and if you look at Reiner's oeuvre, this is easily his best movie.
A homage to the film noir series of the 40's, this movie (in black and white, of course) was kept as authentic as possible to the lighting and camerawork of movies like The Maltese Falcon, This Gun for Hire or The Killers, in essence trying to copy the work John Huston and Arthur Edeson as closely as possible, even perusing the original costume designer of the original movies, Edith Head. The soundtrack by Miklós Rózsa is absolutely gorgeous and gives it a nice melodramatic feel.
This being a Steve Martin movie of the early eighties (1982 to be exact), it is obviously a gentle parody of the genre, but the true stars of the film are the actors of the film noir series, who were included in the story with some clever editing, using the original material. So we see actors like Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Cary Grant etc. in their prime interacting with Martin.
This obviously puts a big strain on the story, which is so convoluted that I will not even attempt to quote it here.
The movie bombed initially at the box office, but it steadily developed a cult-like following and is still showing in arthouse cinemas and was recently released on DVD by Universal.
If you haven't go and see it now!