DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID | Repertory Series

DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID | Repertory Series

Our noir double feature series DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID was programmed by Adam Rothman. Learn more about the series in his program notes. 

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was my introduction to film noir. My father took my brother and me to see this movie upon its theatrical release in 1982, when I was ten years old. I had never heard of film noir before, and I certainly hadn’t seen any films that belonged to the genre, but my father took us to see virtually every film that was released at the time (including The Godfather Part II when I was only 3 years old), and this was no exception.

My unfamiliarity with noir didn’t keep me from loving Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid upon first viewing. Steve Martin delivers an abundance of hilarious gumshoe one-liners that honestly aren’t much sillier than some delivered in serious noirs. Before the movie started, my father told us about the innovation of interweaving various film clips and actors from the 1940s into the action. I knew when it was happening because my father would laugh, so I would laugh too.

It wasn’t until many years later, when I was in college and began to explore the films that were “sampled” in Dead Men, that I truly started to appreciate the impressive achievement of seamlessly blending Ray Milland, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, and scores of other stars into scenes with Steve Martin. The film brought together a production team that painstakingly matched classic and new footage without the help of the computer-generated imagery we would use today. Michael Chapman, the director of photography, spent six months researching with Technicolor to blend the new and original footage, which was then cleverly edited together by frequent Steve Martin collaborator Bud Molin. Production designer John DeCuir and set decorator Richard Goddard painstakingly recreated partial sets to match the earlier scenes. In this, her last film, legendary costume designer Edith Head—who designed the looks seen in many of the original films, including The Glass Key, Sorry Wrong Number, Notorious and The Lost Weekendrecreated costumes for over-the-shoulder shots, using colors that would photograph correctly in black and white. This was also the final film of the composer, Miklos Rozsa, who scored The Lost Weekend and Double Indemnity.

Digging into the noir films that were plundered as the basis for Dead Men‘s plot, you will enjoy a variety of classics such as Double Indemnity, White Heat, The Big Sleep, and This Gun For Hirefilms that have come to define the look and feel of film noir through their rapid-fire banter, striking camera angles, and of course, dramatic lighting. But you are also invited to discover lesser-known gems such as The Bribe, which features deliciously devious performances by Charles Loughton and Vincent Price, and Johnny Eager, for which Van Helfin won an Oscar. One of my own favorite experiences with these films was seeing Barbara Stanwyck’s fraught performance in Sorry, Wrong Number, which greatly enhanced the hilarious context of her appearance in Dead Men, where I first saw her.

Just as Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was my original introduction to film noir, I hope bringing together the films that inspired it will allow you to revisit some classics, discover a new favorite, or simply enjoy the collaborative artistry of filmmaking.

– Guest programmer, Adam Roffman

Adam Roffman has worked in set decoration on feature films for over 25 years, among them The HoldoversCODALittle WomenAmerican Hustle, and The Town. He was Program Director of the Independent Film Festival Boston from 2003-2013, and most recently co-directed the film Made In Massachusetts: 100 Years of Filmmaking in the Bay State.

Ticket to the series are available online and at our box office.