A Mysteriously Easy Collaboration: Devil in a Blue Dress
For 25 years and throughout 13 well-received mystery novels, private investigator Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins sleuths on, courtesy of the enormously prodigious 63-year-old novelist/playwright Walter Mosley, whose creation, a Los Angeles-based African-American detective and World War II veteran who turns shamus to make ends meet after being laid off from his aircraft manufacturing job and never looked back. Twenty years ago this month, the first – and to date only – screen version of Easy’s adventures straddling the cultures of his hard-living Watts community and the racially divided, corruptly powerful pockets of privilege surrounding it hit movie screens as a suavely fresh, gritty and provocative neo-noir thriller showcasing three star talents who delivered the goods big-time. Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), the first Rawlins book, brought together Academy Award® winner Denzel Washington, a master of slow-burn charisma already an audience favorite and a box-office draw; director/screenwriter Carl Franklin, an actor turned filmmaker who apprenticed under Roger Corman and gave moviegoers notice of serious thriller chops with his acclaimed One False Move (1992); and Don Cheadle, an up-and-coming supporting player ready for a showcase role that could turbocharge his career. Their teamwork was electric: Washington’s Rawlins steady and determined in the search for a missing woman whose love life has plunged her into a cesspool of blackmail; Cheadle’s edgy, funny and frightening Mouse, a triggerman thug who manages to rescue Easy from some tough scrapes even while leaving death in his wake; and Franklin, who honored Mosley’s original intention to depict a world that juxtaposed African-American family life with the hard-boiled detective fiction of Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard. Also starring Jennifer Beals, Tom Sizemore, Maury Chaykin and Terry Kinney, Devil in a Blue Dress won Best Supporting Actor honors for Cheadle from the Los Angeles and National Society of Film Critics, with Tak Fujimoto’s scintillating cinematography also judged the year’s best by NSFC. Masterful too is the deliciously right contribution of a movie music veteran: Elmer Bernstein, who blends precisely moody period songs with jazz-tinged and insinuating themes that mark his enduring versatility. Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray serves the luscious Bernstein score with an isolated track, and also features a marvelous audio commentary with filmmaker Franklin. Devil in a Blue Dress debuts from TT on October 13; pre-orders open on September 30.