Now that the last bite of macaroni and cheese has been devoured and every morsel of leftover bird has been recycled into turkey sandwiches, turkey hash or turkey pot pie, it’s time for another installment of the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Even More Adventures in Paradise! Today’s chapter, in honor of Noirvember, has a decided noir bent, surrounded by a cushion of comedy: the interview of the director of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), Carl Reiner.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid stars Steve Martin as private detective Rigby Reardon, who’s hired by a gorgeous but mysterious dame (Rachel Ward) to find the killer of her father, a famous cheese maker. Set in the 1940s, the film is one long homage to the film noir era, and the action is cleverly intercut with clips from a number of classic noirs, including This Gun for Hire (1942), Johnny Eager (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), The Killers (1946), In a Lonely Place (1950), and White Heat (1950). Performers from these films that can be seen in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid include Humphrey Bogart (who plays Rigby’s mentor), James Cagney, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Fred MacMurray, and Barbara Stanwyck,
After the screening of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Reiner was introduced and interviewed by actress Illeana Douglas, a regular at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (and the granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas). Douglas told the packed Chinese Theater audience that the “soundtrack of [her] childhood” was the album of the 2,000 Year-Old Man, a comedy skit created by Reiner and Mel Brooks.
Reiner during his interview with Illeana Douglas.
“The name ‘Carl Reiner’ still defines what comedy is,” Douglas said.
Reiner, who was 94 at the time of the interview, received a rousing reception upon entering the theater, and to the audience’s delight, corrected Douglas about the number of Emmy Awards he’d received over the years – 12, not 9, he affirmed.
Reiner covered a wide variety of topics, including his family (“My wife raised three great kids and one great husband,” he said), and The Dick Van Dyke show, which he created – he called the show’s star “the single most talented man I’ve ever seen in my life [and] one of the dearest, sweetest human beings you’ll ever meet.” He also discussed Van Dyke’s “absolutely brilliant” performance in the film The Comic (1969), which Reiner co-wrote, co-produced, and directed; and another film he directed, Oh, God (1977), starring George Burns, about whom he relayed a hilarious story. Burns, at the time, was around 80 years old and was always seen with beautiful women on his arm, Reiner recalled, adding that he himself was 60 at the time.
Steve made a perfect noir character.
“I asked him what I had to look forward to sexually, when I’m his age,” Reiner said. “And he said, ‘you ever try to put an oyster in a slot machine?’” (Har!)
Reiner also shared stories about Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, revealing that he watched film noir movies for six months to cull the dialogue and scenes – and even character names – that were used in the film.
“It was a pleasure. It was a labor of love,” Reiner said. “It was like doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle.”
The film was the last picture of designer Edith Head, who designed some 20 costumes for Steve Martin and Rachel Ward, and who Reiner characterized as a “dear woman.” The film also features a score by Miklos Rozaa, who composed the music for such classic noirs as The Killers (1946) and Brute Force (1947).
Meeting Carl Reiner.
If you’ve never seen Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid – and my viewing it at the TCM Film Festival was my first time – you’re in for a treat. It’s not only funny, but it’s a real kick to see all of the scenes and characters from your film noir favorites. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did. I promise.
One more thing – after his interview, Carl Reiner signed copies of his latest book, Why and When The Dick Van Dyke Show Was Born, in the lobby of the Chinese Theater. Because The Dick Van Dyke Show is LITERALLY my favorite television show of all time, there was no way that I was passing up the opportunity to get Reiner’s autograph. As it turned out, I got a chance to chat with him for a couple of seconds, and my pal Raquel, over at Out of the Past, surprised me by snapping a picture of me as he shook my hand! It was truly one of the highlights of the fest for me.
Stay tuned for more from the 2016 TCM Film Festival . . . and join me tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember!