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Devil in a Blue Dress

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Carl Franklin
Produced by Executive Producer:
Jonathan Demme
Edward Saxon
Jesse Beaton
Gary Goetzman
Associate Producers:
Walter Mosley
Written by Screenplay:
Carl Franklin
Walter Mosley
Starring Denzel Washington
Tom Sizemore
Terry Kinney
Jennifer Beals
Don Cheadle
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Tak Fujimoto
Editing by Carole Kravetz
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date(s) September 16, 1995
(Toronto Film Festival)
Running time 102 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) is an American neo-noir film directed by Carl Franklin and photographed by Tak Fujimoto.[1]

The motion picture was based on the novel of the same name written by Walter Mosley, who was brought in to help produce the film. The movie was executive produced by Jonathan Demme, and featured in the drama are Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Terry Kinney, Jennifer Beals, and Don Cheadle.

In this noir, that takes place in 1948 Los Angeles, Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is a World War II veteran who has been unfairly laid off at the inner tube factory. He becomes a private eye to make ends meet and pay for his mortgage. Trouble is he's never done work as sleuth.



The films begins in noir fashion when Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) says:

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?

It was the summer of 1948, and Easy Rawlins was out of work and needed money urgently to pay his mortgage. Recently laid off from his job he is seeking work as an emergency raft designer, his trade, for Douglas Aircraft. Easy recounts how he moved to Los Angeles after serving in WWII when his friend Joppy (Mel Winkler), who runs a bar, introduces him to a white man named DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore). Albright is looking for someone to help him find a missing white woman, Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), assumed to be hiding somewhere in the Black community; he also learns she is the girlfriend of wealthy Todd Carter (Terry Kinney), who was the favorite in the Los Angeles mayoral race before dropping out. Albright, who says Carter dropped out because he couldn't find Monet, offers Rawlins $100 dollars to take the job. Since the money represents a few house payments, Easy accepts but is immediately suspicious of Albright. Monet is known to spend time in the black juke joint clubs in South Central Los Angeles and Easy begins his search there at an illegal club on 89th and Central.

While waiting to enter he sees a commotion with a bizarre white man by the name of Richard McGee and the clubs bouncer, Junior Fornay. After entering he meets with his friends Degan Odell, Dupree Brouchard, and his girl Coretta James. After plying the couple with liquor he inquires about a girl named "Dahlia" or "Delilah". He finds out that Coretta is a confidant of Daphne and after spending the night with her he learns Daphne was involved with a South Central gangster named Frank Green.

The next afternoon, after sleeping off his hangover, he is called by Albright who sets up a meeting at the Malibu pier. While waiting Easy is accosted by some racist youths after a casual conversation with one of their girlfriends. Easy, trying to calm the situation, is nearly overtaken when Albright appears from the darkness. He viciously humiliates and beats one of the punks for his actions. Easy, uncomfortable with the situation, gives his information to Albright who retains him with another payment and demands he continue his search.

When Easy gets home he is immediately arrested by two LAPD homicide detectives. They take him into custody where he learns that Coretta was savagely murdered after his night with her. He is released later after some rough treatment and while walking home he is followed by Mathew Terrell, the other candidate in the mayoral race. He gets into the car where he finds Terrell with a young boy, supposedly his adopted son. Terrell makes it clear that he is also very interested in finding Daphne Monet. After a short time, Easy, careful of Terrell's motives, asks to be dropped off and walks home after the meet.

After a nightmare about Correta he receives a call...from Daphne Monet. She instructs him to meet her at the Ambassador Hotel where she informs him she needs his help. She needs to go into the Hollywood hills and meet with a person with information vital to her and Todd Carter. Easy, reluctantly accepts her position and he nervously drives her to her destination. When they arrive at the house they find it ransacked and the occupant, Richard McGee dead. While there Easy finds a clue to his murder. At the same time Monet flees in a panic leaving Easy behind.

The next morning Easy returns home to find Albright and his goons waiting for him. He is threatened with death unless he fulfills his mission. After the exchange Easy enlists the help of his sadistic and trigger-happy friend Mouse Alexander (Don Cheadle) from Houston, Texas. Easy's goal is to uncover why Monet is so important to so many people and, in the process, keep himself out of jail, which is not an easy task for a Black man living in post-World War II Los Angeles.

Soon after he arranges a meeting with Todd Carter himself where he secures a fair amount of money to locate Daphne. Carter accepts the proposal and Easy, learning that Albright is not employed by Carter at all, returns home. Before he enters he is warned from his neighbor, (Barry Shabaka Henley), that there is an ambush waiting. Easy turns around just in time to grab Frank Green. The two men fight in the house, and Green gets the upper hand, cutting into Easy's throat, but Mouse comes to the rescue. Easy tries to reason with Frank but Mouse shoots him in an attempt to extort information, letting Frank bolt for the door and letting a lead escape with him. Easy and Mouse set out to meet up with Dupree, getting him intoxicated and finding out that Coretta had been in possession of a package that was vital to the mayoral race—pictures of Terrell with "innocent, helpless, naked children." Easy finds the pictures hidden in Coretta's bible.

They then find Junior Fornay, the bouncer at the 89th and Central club and learn that after Junior's altercation with McGee he drove him home to the hills for some money. He is cornered when Easy reveals the clue ... a pack of Mexican Zapata cigarettes, only smoked by Junior. Junior pleads with Mouse and Easy that he wasn't the killer. Now involved in two murders, Easy then travels to Joppy's, where he vents his rage at Joppy for getting him into such a mess. Joppy explains that all he wanted to do was set him up with some work. Easy is disgusted at Joppy's answer and leaves.

When he returns home he gets a visit from Daphne. Easy learns that Daphne hid from Carter because of her association with Frank Green...her half-brother. Daphne's creole mother from New Orleans had given birth to two children by different fathers, and although Daphne's own father was white, her half-brother's father was black. Being the fiancee of a mayoral favorite with partial African-American heritage would ensure a loss for Carter. Terrell's knowledge of this fact is the reason Carter dropped out of the race. Of course, the pictures of Terrell with children would cause him to drop out, bringing Carter victory. Daphne says McGee sold the pictures to her, and Easy infers that Albright killed McGee while looking for the pictures, then Junior gave them to Coretta, who hid them in her bible. Daphne also reveals that Corretta was killed accidentally by Joppy although Daphne had only asked him to scare her into silence. Albright and his men then burst into Easy's house, quickly subduing Easy and abducting Daphne. When he regains consciousness, he calls Mouse and they race to Joppy's to get a fix on Albright's location. At the bar Easy abducts Joppy. He then learns where Albright is but Mouse nearly shoots them both in the process. Easy only calms Mouse down by telling him they could be rewarded with $7,000 dollars that Daphne will pay for photographs that Easy has obtained.

In the Hollywood hills they set up an ambush, shooting Albright and his goons and rescuing Daphne and the photographs. But when Easy returns to the car he finds Joppy dead ... killed by Mouse. Easy hands over the photographs that prove that Matthew Terrell is a pedophile. This will put him out of the mayoral race for good and Carter promises Easy that there will be no more trouble with the police. Daphne and Carter still do not end up together—race was still an issue. Easy also finds out that the money Daphne had paid him and Mouse for the photographs came from a large sum originally given to her by Carter's family as a bribe to get out of town. She had only stayed because she believed they would change their minds and allow Carter to marry her if he won. However, although Carter is now certain to become mayor he refuses her pleas, despite saying that he loves her, and she leaves in tears.

The film closes with Easy and Odell relaxing on his porch, enjoying life, contemplating the events and wondering what the future would hold.



Carl Franklin wrote and directed the neo-noir because he liked Walter Mosley's novel. (Walter Mosley served as an associate producer in the film.) He thought the work was more than a detective story. Franklin says author Mosley was able to transform an everyday guy into a detective. In the editing process Franklin had to cut a steamy love scene between Beals and Washington because he believed the scene wasn't needed to convey the story.[2]


Filming locations

The film was shot mostly in Los Angeles, California. The pier shot where Easy Rawlins gets in trouble with local youths was filmed at the Malibu, California pier. Other locales in Los Angeles include the Griffith Park Observatory and the famed Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard.

Critical reception

In a positive film review, critic James Berardinelli discusses the film from a sociological viewpoint, especially a 1990s one. He concludes, "The most interesting element of Devil in a Blue Dress is not the whodunit, but the 'whydunit.' Finding the guilty parties isn't as involving as learning their motivation, which is buried in society's perception of racial interaction. By uncovering the truth behind this mystery, Franklin illustrates that some attitudes have indeed changed for the better over the last forty years."[3]

The Chicago Sun-Times film critic, Roger Ebert, did not like the story much but did like the look and tone of the film, and wrote, "I liked the movie without quite being caught up in it: I liked the period, tone and look more than the story, which I never really cared much about. The explanation, when it comes, tidies all the loose ends, but you're aware it's arbitrary - an elegant solution to a chess problem, rather than a necessary outcome of guilt and passion."[4]

Many critics applauded Don Cheadle's performance. Jerry Renshaw said, "Cheadle steals every scene where he appears as Mouse..." Although he was disappointed by Jennifer Beals' lackluster, vanilla performance.[5]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 89% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on forty-six reviews.[6]


The producers used the following tagline to market the film:

In a world divided by black and white, Easy Rawlins is about to cross the line.

The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 16, 1995. In the United States it opened in wide release on September 29, 1995.

The first week's gross was $5,422,385 (1,432 screens) and the total receipts for the run were $16,004,418. The film was in wide release for 12 weeks (87 days). In its widest release the film was featured in 1,432 theaters across the country.[7]

Video and DVD releases

The film was released in video format on April 2, 1996. It was released on laserdisc in June 1996 and included the original theatrical trailer.

A DVD version was released on 9 March, 1999 and includes an audio commentary by director Carl Franklin.


The original score for the film was written and recorded by Elmer Bernstein. The original music soundtrack was released on September 12, 1995 by Sony. The CD included 14 tracks, three of them written by Bernstein (theme, etc).

  1. West Side Baby - T-Bone Walker
  2. Ain't Nobody's Business - Jimmy Witherspoon
  3. Hy-Ah-Su - Duke Ellington
  4. Hop Skip And Jump - Roy Milton
  5. Good Rockin' Tonight - Wynonie Harris
  6. Blues After Hours - Pee Wee Crayton
  7. I Can't Go On Without You - Bull Moose Jackson
  8. 'Round Midnight - Thelonious Monk
  9. Chicken Shack Boogie - Amos Milburn
  10. Messin' Around - Memphis Slim
  11. Chica Boo - Lloyd Glenn
  12. Theme From 'Devil In A Blue Dress' - Elmer Bernstein
  13. Malibu Chase - Elmer Bernstein
  14. End Credits - Elmer Bernstein




See also


  1. ^ Devil in a Blue Dress at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ Tornquist, Cynthia. CNN, "Showbiz Tonight," September 28, 1995.
  3. ^ Berardinelli, James. Reel Views, 1995.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger. The Chicago Sun-Times, September 29, 1995.
  5. ^ Renshaw, Jerry. The Austin Chronicle, film review, October 12, 1998.
  6. ^ Devil in a Blue Dress at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: November 28, 2009.
  7. ^ The Numbers box office data. Last accessed: December 5, 2007.

External links


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