"It was the summer of 1948, and I needed money," begins Easy
Rawlins (Denzel Washington) in DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS. In a loving and
lush recreation of black Los Angles of that era by set designer Gary
Frutkoff, this film noir starts. Think of any of the Raymond Chandler
mysteries. Now switch the characters so that most are black, and
voila, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS.
The sets and the sepia toned images by famous cinematographer Tak
Fujimoto (PHILADELPHIA, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and SOMETHING WILD) form
a picture that is a delight to your eyes. Easy owns a home in a black
middle class suburb of LA that Frutkoff has created with wide streets,
tall cool palm trees, and green lawns. Although Easy has a nice house
and a long, new Pontiac, all is not easy for him as he has just lost
the lucrative job in the aircraft industry that he migrated years ago
from Texas to get. He was fired because of the color of his skin.
Racism interlaces the story as a subtext, but it is a mystery more than
a morality play.
While he is down on his luck and two mortgage payments behind, a
strange white figure called DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) makes him an
offer too good to pass up. It seems that in the midst of the LA
mayoral campaign, mayor Todd Carter (Terry Kinney from that great old
TV series "thirysomething") has dropped out of the race claiming he is
despondent over the mysteriously disappearance of his girlfriend Daphne
Monet (Jennifer Beals). DeWitt says that the mayor has hire him to
The complication is that Daphne is white, but likes to hang around
with black men so DeWitt wants to pay Easy $100 upfront to locate her.
He says that Easy could be more inconspicuous in black nightclubs than
he would be. Easy has no idea why he is picked but needs the money so
he takes the job. Along the way he runs into Coretta James (Lisa
Nicole Carson) who claims to know Daphne. Soon however people start
getting killed and the police want to pin the murders on Easy. The
mystery is who is doing it and why. Is it Todd Carter? Is it Daphne
Monet? How about the other mayoral candidate Matthew Terrell (Maury
Chaykin from UNSTRUNG HEROES)? Perhaps it is Easy after all? Or could
it be DeWitt? A police frame-up? A mysterious stranger? Who?
I thought the script by the director Carl Franklin, based on the
novel of the same name by Walter Mosely, was too much of a period and
mood piece and too little of a mystery. Although I did not guess the
outcome, I did not try nor care much. I liked the show because of
Denzel Washington's acting and not the totally forgettable mystery.
There were several memorable lines. One of my favorites was Easy's
philosophy: "A man once told me that you step out of your door in the
morning, and you are already in trouble. The only question is 'are you
on top of that trouble or not?'" The dialog as delivered, on the other
hand, was frequently so thick that you almost needed subtitles to
As much as I liked Easy, there is a minor character named Mouse
(Don Cheadle) that I liked even more. Mouse is a smalltime gangster
that likes to kill people whenever possible. He is a firecracker with
a short fuse that may explode at any moment, and yet he is extremely
funny. One of my favorite lines of his is: "You said don't shot him,
right? Well I didn't; I strangled him. If you didn't want me to kill
him, why did you leave me alone with him?"
The director Carl Franklin also did ONE FALSE MOVE which was much
more innovative and daring. In comparison, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS is a
nice little formula picture. It has some excellent performances in it
by Cheadle and Washington, but the script rarely draws in the audience
and the less said about the pathetic non-acting by Jennifer Beals, the
better. Perhaps Beals should just sign up to do remakes of FLASHDANCE
for the rest of her life since that is the only decent movie she ever
made. Oh yes, the music by that old movie music master Elmer Berstein
is effective as always. Of the over one hundred and fifty movies he has
scored, my favorite of his remains THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes