Neo-Noir: Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) + Hickey & Boggs (1972)

July 13, 2016 | By

The film noir entries produced by Hollywood during the 1940s and early 1950s were part of a unique genre that reflected the PTSD figures who survived WWII and felt various levels of emotional, social, and economic displacement. Love came hard, jobs were spotty, stressors could be ignited by a minor quibble or nagging irritants, and the crime world seemed to be the only source for fast money and promises of a better life.

The two films reviewed in this pairing form neo-noirs, attempts by modern filmmakers to either capture or transpose the grim generic elements.

DevilInABlueDress_poster_sDevil in a Blue Dress (1995) may have been released by Tristar, but it’s safe to bet director Carl Franklin was shielded from studio interference by executive producer Jonathan Demme, whose own filmic roots go back to Roger Corman exploitation programmers.

Franklin’s adaptation of Walter Moseley’s novel was highly praised, but the film never launched a hoped-for franchise, and in seeing this near-perfect neo noir 21 years since its release, the character of Easy Rollins is ready for a return to cinemas or cable TV, perhaps supervised by Franklin again, now a top director for HBO.

Moseley’s 1990 novel was also praised for telling a classic noir tale with nearly all African-American characters, and using the genre to show a vibrant culture ignored by Hollywood in prior noir entries.

A rare filmic antecedent can be seen in Robert Culp’s lone feature film as director, the underrated buddy detective / neo noir thriller Hickey & Boggs (1971).

HickeyBoggs_teaser_poster_sCulp sought to recapture the dynamic relationship with I Spy co-star Bill Cosby, and what emerged, courtesy of writer Walter Hill, was a cynical, grim saga that spotlighted characters living in uglier parts of L.A. The sun still shined brightly, but the buildings were worn and cheap.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition of Devil in a Blue Dress sports all the extras from Sony’s 2001 DVD, whereas KINO Lorber’s BR edition of Hickey & Boggs is once again bare bones. The lack of special features may be due to KL not being wholly familiar with this minor classic, or perhaps not unlike Warner Home Video’s release of the problem-plagued Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), the label felt a bare bones disc would suffice the demands of its fans and not wade into the mess that surrounds disgraced comedic institution Bill Cosby.

BoyOnADolphin_posterAnd while we’re on the topic of KL, the label recently announced their latest nuggets from Fox’s back catalogue set to debut on Blu this fall, and the one that stood out for me is Jean Negulesco’s Boy on a Dolphin (1957), a title I admittedly hoped would be a TT release.

Why? Because the likelihood of KL engaging historians to record a commentary track that addresses the careers of cast, director, and composer Hugo Friedhofer, and add an isolated score are probably nil. KL’s releases sport gorgeous transfers, but it’s a rare few that tend to get the special edition treatment. Dolphin‘s a personal favourite in the director’s and composer’s respective filmographies, and I hope KL gives it the deserved kid glove treatment, as this release marks the first time the movie’s been available on disc form in North America.

My source copy for the review I penned way back in 2008 came from a widescreen TCM airing, and like any fan, I want a personal favourite to come with valuable extras that contextualize its place in film history. (As s CinemaScope film, it’s one of the most beautiful.) So fingers crossed KL won’t disappoint, although I doubt they’ll include an isolated score track, which is a shame, because hearing Friedhofer’s music in uncompressed DTS would blow away the still-fine Intrada CD that came out around 2008.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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