Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) Film Review

June 5, 2024

What people will do for money. What people will do for power.


It is the unfortunate inadvertence of the protagonist, Mr. Easy Rawlins, portrayed by Mr. Denzel Washington to find work in a vulnerable position of needing to keep up with the mortgage on his home in a distinctly African-American Los Angeles neighborhood – likely West Adams or South Central Los Angeles. Indeed, the high-point of the film is in its unabashed portrayal of working African-American life, as a segregated society with its own bars and mores, far removed from “white man rules” of abstaining from co-mingling with the colored. It is here where the soft to explicit racial prejudices towards the Black Man is depicted in similar nakedness; yet done so without hyperbole; and therefore, tastefully authentic to the historical post World-War II period.


Mr. Easy Rawlins heard of the job opportunity while at his favorite bar. It required him to find the woman of a mayoral candidate who dropped out of the race. All he knows is she is into “dark meat”.


His sleuthing leads to a trail of murders with his personal engagement too close for comfort, until he discovers the truth of what his $100 dollar in 1948 dollars he receives pays for – to the $1,000, to the ultimately 7 grand he can negotiate due to what he unearths.


And it is its own meditation of the secret sins of those who are desiring to be public, that has its own preciously valuable reflection upon a society that nascently is experiencing the life of the tabloid and the power of journalism in political movements. That, should a journalist be revealed the secret he discovers, more than a mayoral run would be toast, but an entire families future would be ruined in jeopardy due to the sickness.


Thus, the Lie is born.


Thus, to the unbeknownst reader of the LA papers, there is the total ignorance of a mayoral candidate’s wife’s background as a half-Creole. Yet it can remain hidden such that they can feel assured that they are not being ruled by someone inferior.


And the emphasis is on feel; as the journalist is capable of powerfully amplifying those moods and rushes of gratification, or of drama, that is so absent the mundane and ordinary day-to-day of barbershops and church service and putting in a good day’s work. Of those fancy drinks in the early morning which is fabulously depicted in all its contemporariness of the late 1940’s (long before the Watts riots are even a contemplation.)


Mr. Rawlins is just a player in this game; his role, after being hoodwinked into the antics of the darkness, is to settle his debts. And that pseudo-imprisonment as an accomplice to the pride in home ownership is what inaugurates this film to begin with. Yet when one is no longer lacking in servicing debts, what does the peace afford one next?


Enter the political stage; where morals in the late 1940’s still matter in appearance. Even though since the turn of the century the politician in America, and his drunkenness, is lacking in the same calibre as the founders of the Nation that accorded them so much providence to stage feeble attempts at human perfection.


True power is true. And the truth is all men are created equal under Natural Law, and therefore the ideal of the American state being the equality of rights under the law – in stark contrast to color-vision. It is in this irksomeness which is not the mantelpiece of the noir crime mystery, however. It is in what is possible to get away with in plain sight, because of filthy lucre.


Thank goodness the proud gentleman can handle his own, in the rough and tumble world which the journalist does not want to touch, though is amply capable of fueling headline periodical pieces to titillate; yet the squeamish don’t want to know the truth. They would rather buy into a lie of the nobility of their power to choose.


How precious an ideal – to think they have legitimate power in determining the highways and byways. Just put on a pretty family face and let the machinery around the smorgasbord of taxes be possessed by those who need the fancy Packard to be driven in. Meanwhile, a man wants to return home, have a whiskey with his friend, as the peace of family life surrounds him as he plots his next move in sowing for a brighter image.


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