Rare Screening of Carl Franklin’s ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ This Sunday at Black Cinema House in Chicago (A Forgotten Movie?)
Photo Credit: S & A

Rare Screening of Carl Franklin’s ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ This Sunday at Black Cinema House in Chicago (A Forgotten Movie?)

nullI don’t

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.

And that

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.

Whether or

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.

But the

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.

Yet somehow

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


And with

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.

As always

seating is free, but you have to RSVP HERE