really know why Carl Franklin’s 1995 film adaption of Walter Mosley’s Devil in
Blue Dress isn’t talked about much nowdays by anyone, if at all. It’s a superior film
that fires on all cylinders – acting, direction, script, cinematography,
editing art direction -you name it. It’s almost flawless and anchoring the film
are two stellar performances, a terrific one by Denzel Washington as Mosley’s
detective Easy Rawlins and a scene stealing one by Don Cheadle as his murderous
psycho sometimes partner Mouse Alexander who people said at the time was
cheated out of an Oscar Best Supporting Actor nomination.
The film is
true to its film nourish roots giving us a complex, shadowy mystery story full
of twists and turns with dubious characters who lie to hide their true agendas. Meanwhile Easy resolutely goes through the task of finding out the truth. He’s someone,
like all the great detective characters of the past such as Phillip Marlowe or
Lew Archer, cynical yet driven by a sense of justice and fair play with the
stubborn habit of not letting something once it has its hooks into him.
Yet the film
is not simply a Humphrey Bogart film in blackface. It very accurately chronicles
what like was like for black folks in this country during the 1940’s. Racism and
segregation weren’t just a Southern thing. It was everywhere from the Midwest
to the East to the so-called more liberal “Left Coast” of Southern California.
Black people faced insults, oppression and degradation every day and yet
persevered and endured. It wasn’t easy for sure.
might be why the film was not a box office success when it came out in the fall
of 1995.. Interestingly Washington remarked sometime after the film’s release
that he felt the film’s lackluster performance was due to the racial angst in
this country after O.J. Simpson was found innocent of murder which happened
just a few days after Devils’ release. People weren’t in the mood to see a film, that even though was a detective thriller, dealt with race at its core.
not you believe that or not I’ve always suspected that another reason why the
film failed to find an audience was because black audiences were unconformable
with scenes in the film where Easy is forced to be submissive and acquiescent
to white people. Django or Jim Brown he wasn’t.
They saw the film through contemporary eyes wanting Easy to knock out
white guys every time one of them even looked at him with crossed eyed.
reality is that where dealing with America in the 1940’s which was culturally
barely far removed from 1840’s. Attitudes were far backwards for its time. For
example there’s that one scene where Easy is waiting at a pier to meet sometime
and is approached by a white woman who starts to have conversation with him.
Easy starts looking around nervously to see if any anyone is watching them and doesn’t
want to talk to her.
The fact of
the matter was that, unless you were a servant, a black man just even talking to a white woman back then, no
matter how innocently, was enough reason to get his head handed back to him on
a platter. And sure enough two white guys catch them and he gets into a world of
trouble until someone with a big gun arrives to save his skin.
But any many
viewers have overlooked the fact that Easy grows in confidence and determination
as the he gets deeper into the case. By at the end of the film, in the wonderful
final scene, in a perfect character arc, he has become a totally different
person, more aware and assured of himself and his abilities.
when people talk about their favorite black films Devil never is on anyone’s
list. (It is on mine list) It seems to be forgotten. Though I’m sure that are
those who still remember it fondly. It’s a shame that it didn’t do well since
there are so many other wonderful Easy Rawlins novels that would make great
that there is going to a rare screening of the Devil in a Blue Dress at the Black Cinema House in Chicago this
Sunday May 17th starting at 4 PM located at 7200 S. Kimbark Ave.
seating is free, but you have to RSVP HERE