BR: Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

July 13, 2016 | By

DevilInABlueDress_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released: October 13, 2015

Genre:  Crime / Film Noir

Synopsis: An out-of-work machinist accepts some easy money to find a pretty dame and becomes enmeshed in a blackmail scheme.

Special Features: 2001 Audio Commentary with writer-director Carl Franklin / Isolated Stereo Music Track / 2001 Interview with writer-director Carl Franklin / Don Cheadle Screen Test / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




Riding on the success of the vicious crime thriller One False Move (1992), Carl Franklin’s follow-up was the first of a proposed series of films based on Walter Moseley’s former machinist-turned detective Easy Rollins, with Denzel Washington as the recurring headliner. Whether the film didn’t receive enough push from studio Tristar, had weak distribution, or the timing was off for a neo-noir, Devil in a Blue Dress didn’t enjoy the success it deserved, and this pilot for a theatrical franchise remains a unique, virtually perfect one-off, if not a gem that’s aged into one of the finest modern noir tales, with exceptional contributions in every category.

Franklin, who also penned the careful adaptation of Mosely’s 1990 novel, took great care in crafting a story with compelling characters and an outstanding evocation of postwar Los Angeles. The dialogue is rich in harmony, irony, wit, and rhythm, delivered by a superb cast of actors, some of which whom would move on to notable work in TV.

Moseley’s plot is quite traditional for the genre. After being laid off from an airplane manufacturer, Rollins (Denzel Washington) accepts a one-time job from a friend-of-a-friend: following a ‘devilishly’ beautiful mistress named Daphne (Jennifer Beals), and providing key info to enable a reunion with a wealthy businessman Todd Carter (Oz’s Terry Kinney), who’s being blackmailed by a rival mayoral wannabe Matthew Terell (Maury Chaykin), a closet child molester.

Easy’s soon pegged for murdering friend Coretta (E.R.’s Lisa Nicole Carson), arrested and manhandled by brutal cops (Beau Starr), and hounded by DeWitt (Tom Sizemore) and his own goons after he makes contact with sultry, steamy Daphne. Woven into the fabric is blackmail, more murders, local kingpins, speakeasies and jazz clubs (including one co-run by Lost’s L. Scott Caldwell) the betrayal of good friends as well as Easy’s own immoral dalliance with Coretta, and a finale that’s packed with some of the brutality seen in Franklin’s One False Move.

Most of the violence is implied or occurs in quick flashes, as the worst is left to one’s imagination. Franklin maintains a perfect balance of compelling characters, including vicious little Mouse (Don Cheadle in his breakout role after already distinguishing himself in TV’s Picket Fences), an enforcer who wears fine threads and applies cold killing techniques with clinical precision, be it with a gun, rope, or whatever is necessary.

Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography is rich with earthy tones, and flatters the impeccable locations, sets, and fine décor. Car enthusiasts will also relish the beautiful vintage sedans and their elegant streamlined shapes.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a crisp HD transfer and balanced 5.1 sound mix that pops now and then when Franklin and ace editor Crole Kravetz-Aykanian choreograph the film’s explosive violence, and Elmer Bernstein’s orchestral score is isolated on a separate isolated stereo track.

Ported over from Sony’s 2001 DVD is Don Cheadle’s screen tests for Mouse, an extended interview with Franklin on the film, and his full-length commentary track which chronicles the production of what should’ve been at least an occasional film series, or a cable TV mini-series. The world of Easy Rollins is packed with memorable nuanced characters, and perhaps unintentionally for contemporary audiences, an everyman whose sudden downsizing and elimination leads to some serious soul-searching and stumbling through what ultimately becomes a new career.

In his commentary, Franklin traces the moments when Rollins gradually becomes a private eye, gaining confidence, standing up to racist cops, and dressing the part. Also detailed are aspects of African Americans who, like Rollins, travelled during the 1940s from Texas to L.A  in search of jobs, settled in sleepy suburbs like Compton, and established urban communities before gang culture smothered the environment in the 1960s.

Devil is a poetic, sometimes bawdy, often bellicose portrait of a period using noir archetypes which for decades remained exclusive to white characters, and where ethnic and visible minorities (especially Italians and Greeks) were restricted to oddballs in fleeting encounters. Mosely doesn’t transpose genre elements for literary novelty; as translated by Franklin for the big screen, he smashes the illusion propagated by Hollywood that within the film noir genre, African Americans never existed.

The film’s commercial disappointment didn’t harm Franklin’s career, but his feature film output has been exceptionally sparse for a filmmaker who burst onto the scene with stark crime dramas and characters trapped in desperate scenarios. After the devastating cancer drama One True Thing (1998), he moved back to TV and has directed episodes of several top cable TV series, including House of Cards (2013-2014), Homeland (2013-2014), and Vinyl (2016).

Star Washington and cinematographer Fujimoto had previously collaborated with Devil’s executive producer Jonathan Demme on the 1993 drama Philadelphia, and would reunite again for Demme’s 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
Vendor Search Links: — —

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.