Updated: Nov 6, 2021
Devil in a Blue Dress (Sony TriStar, 1995) directed by Carl Franklin
Today’s entry is, admittedly, something of a cheat. I recently wrote an 1,800-word essay on this film for The Dark Pages, which will appear in the end-of-the-year giant issue dedicated to California noir. You can find out more about how to subscribe to or get a single issue of The Dark Pages here. For now I’ll share with you just a few thoughts on the film, hoping you’ll pick up a print copy of The Dark Pages.
Set in 1948, Devil in a Blue Dress is more than just a period noir, or neo-noir, if you will. The film presents us with a different type of film noir detective in Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington), a man just returning from WWII trying to build a better life for himself. After losing his job (through no fault of his own) at a Los Angeles aircraft plant, Easy accepts an assignment from a sketchy-looking white man named DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore), who’ll pay $100 for information leading to the location of a white woman named Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals). Easy is ill-prepared for the job, but gets it done, yet in the process discovers a labyrinth of greed and corruption.
Like Franklin’s terrific 1992 neo-noir One False Move, Devil in a Blue Dress is superbly shot with a script based on Walter Mosley’s novel of the same name and features exceptional performances. (Don Cheadle, playing Easy’s friend Mouse, almost walks away with the film.) Some critics have complained that the script is uneven, especially in the behavior of Mouse and Easy's relationship to him, but Mouse isn't there just to provide dark comedy, but rather a complex character study. We're not sure whether Easy (especially in his emerging role as detective) is going to embrace Mouse's methods or shun them. They are friends, after all...
Devil in a Blue Dress has been unjustly overlooked (and overwhelmed at the box office by Se7en at roughly the same time) since its release. The film is worth seeking out, and there’s talk about an Easy Rawlins TV series on the horizon. But don’t miss this one in Noirvember. You can find a Region B Blu-ray from Indicator, but the Twilight Time Blu-ray may be hard to find at a good price. You can currently stream Devil in a Blue Dress if you have the Criterion Channel.