Friday, May 10, 2013

Devil in a Blue Dress (film)

Walter Mosley published Devil in a Blue Dress, his first novel, in 1990. In 1995, a film adaptation was made of the novel, directed by Carl Franklin, starring Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins. The movie was critically acclaimed when it was released, but did not do well financially.

The last time I saw Devil in a Blue Dress was in 1999, so it is amazing how much I remembered about the movie. Most films or books that I watched or read that long ago are just a hazy memory. Perhaps it was the setting, Los Angeles in the late 1940's, or perhaps it was the fine acting by Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle, who played the role of Mouse, Easy's friend.

Ezekial "Easy" Rawlins is a black man who has come back from serving in the military in World War II and was able to purchase a house in Los Angeles, California. At the beginning of the story, Easy has lost his job and is desperate for a new one to pay his mortgage. A white man pays Easy a very large sum to find a beautiful white woman, Daphne Monet. Easy is suspicious of the offer of such a large sum, but he is desperate for money. The more he gets involved with Daphne and her problems, the more dangerous his situation becomes. My review of the book is here.

This article by Andrew Pulver at the Guardian (from 2004) has a good overview of the movie as a book adaptation. I especially liked these comments, which summarize one of the main reasons I liked both the book and the movie:
Though indebted to classic LA noir, Franklin's film is as much a nostalgic treatment of African-American life in the immediate post-war years, examining the fledgling suburban communities of South Central and Compton that later became riot-torn, rundown and violent.
The film was shot in and around Los Angeles for the most part. Per the liner notes for the DVD:
For the film's largest exterior scene, a four-block section of downtown L.A.'s Main Street was transformed into 1948 Central Avenue. 200 extras, 100 period vehicles, and an authentic red car trolley were recruited to complete the illusion.
I felt like the movie was true to the book and a very good retelling of that story. There were some changes to the plot and the characters, but they were minor. There was a scene between Daphne and Easy towards the end of the book that did not show up in the movie. I did not like that element of the book anyway, so I did not miss it. According to the liner notes, all adjustments that Franklin made were approved by Mosley.

I liked all of the performances, and especially Denzel Washington as Easy; Don Cheadle as his friend Mouse; Tom Sizemore as Dewitt Albright, the white man trying to find Daphne; and Jennifer Beals as Daphne. Other reviewers commented negatively about Beals portrayal of Daphne, but I thought it was fine. Maybe I was swayed because I liked her in the short-lived TV series, The Chicago Code.

The music was also very good. The original score for the film was written by Elmer Bernstein. The soundtrack included selections from the time that the movie was set.

Racial themes are dealt with but they do not overpower the plot. In this case I liked the book and the movie equally. The book allows the reader to understand Easy's motivations and the racial tensions of the times in more depth, but the movie is atmospheric and conveys the mood of the times very well.

This article at Turner Classic Movies is a very good resource on the film.

This is the second movie I have watched and reported on for the Book to Movie Challenge 2013, hosted by Doing Dewey.

14 comments:

  1. Tracy, I have heard about this film and even read about it on some blogs/websites. Denzel Washington seems to have walked right past me with this one. He is well suited for this kind of a role.

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    1. Prashant, Denzel Washington was perfect for this role. I think you will like the film if you get a chance to see it.

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  2. Tracy - I'm so glad that you found this movie to be a good retelling of the novel. I thought so too and I also really enjoyed Denzel Washington as Rawlins. He's very talented anyway and I think he stayed quite true to Rawlins' character. Thanks for reminding me...

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    1. Margot, I enjoyed every minute of it. Too bad they did not continue to make movies of the other books in the series.

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  3. I would love to read Walter Mosley. I saw this film and liked it as well. Have you read a lot of his books? Sorry for the tangent.

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    1. Keishon, No problem. I have only read Devil in a Blue Dress, but I have several other books in that series in my TBR pile. After reading that book, I want to try all of his series.

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  4. Haven't read the book or seen the movie but after reading your review would love to. Thanks.

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    1. neer, I think you would like both the book and the movie. Both are dark and realistic, but not bleak.

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  5. I have to say I've never heard of this, neither the book nor the movie. It sounds like a good balance between the gripping plot and the exploration of racial issues. I will keep my eye out for a copy when I'm browsing the second hand bookshops.

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    1. The book is definitely worth trying, should you find a copy. The author is a very interesting and talented man.

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  6. I've never managed to get into Moseley's books but maybe I would do better with a film. You do make this one sound appealing.

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    1. Sarah, since I liked the book so much, I was trying to decide if you would like the movie... because they are a lot alike. But I think you would, because it is more visual (of course).

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  7. Tracy, I never enough knew they made a film out of this. I'll see if it's readily available in the UK, as it may be worth a look. I read the book a fair few years ago along with a couple of the subsequent Rawlins books.

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    1. Col, if you can find it, it is definitely worth a viewing. And I would love to know what you think of it.

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