Devil in a Blue Dress

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Synopsis

Carl Franklin confirmed his name as one of the key voices of the nineties neo-noir revival when he followed up the 1991 modern classic One False Move with this 1995 adaptation of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins novel. Denzel Washington plays Rawlins, a private investigator in post-war Los Angeles who uncovers a web of corruption while on the search for the mistress of a wealthy businessman.

Picture 7/10

Indicator presents Carl Franklin’s Devil in a Blue Dress on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a 2010 2K remaster sourced from a 35mm interpositive.

Indicator’s presentation is decent enough when all is said and done, but it suffers a few setbacks that were also evident in the Twilight Time edition, suggesting any shortcomings are more than likely inherent to the master. Film grain looks a little off here, like it has been sharpened a bit, and this makes the image noisy in spots, more notably in some of those dark, smoky interiors. Twilight Time looks to have either applied noise reduction or softened the image a little bit, making that grain less coarse, but in the process their presentation loses some of the film’s finer details. Indicator’s presentation does a better job in rendering those finer details, found in everything from tweed jackets to the rundown settings, but the trade-off appears to be the harsher grain. This may also play into some digital artifacts that pop up, like shimmering, which is evident in some tighter patterns like the rolled up blinds in the film's opening flashback sequence. This was also the case with the Twilight Time edition, but it appears to be just a wee bit more obvious here.

The rest of the presentation is solid, though. I think black levels look richer and inkier here, and the darker sequences do look a bit better in the process. I also found colours in general to look a little more vibrant and pleasant. The picture still shows some source damage, though it’s minimal and limited to a handful of specs, some slight pulsing, and minor frame shifts. Twilight Time’s edition is the same.

In all it’s decent, and gets the job done, it's just a dated master.

Audio 8/10

Indicator presents two audio tracks: a 5.1 surround soundtrack presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, and a 2-channel stereo surround soundtrack presented in lossless PCM. I only listened to the 5.1 surround soundtrack.

It's not the most creative mix I've ever heard but it suits the film. Music makes the most use of the surround set-up, spreading everything out around the viewer. The rest of the track is focussed primarily to the fronts, though some sound effects do make their way to the rears, with some of the busier settings (clubs, streets, shoot out in the woods) throwing things around. The track as a whole is dynamic with wide range, and dialogue is clear and easy to hear. Not a knockout but it suits the film.

Extras 8/10

Indicator’s Blu-ray ports over most of the on-disc content from the previous Columbia/Tri-Star DVD and Twilight Time Blu-ray, only dropping the isolated score found on the latter edition. Yet again, things start off with Carl Franklin’s audio commentary recorded for that original DVD edition. I actually hadn’t listened to the track prior to this, but it ended up being a very pleasant surprise and one of the better director tracks I’ve listened to. Franklin's incredibly passionate about filmmaking and he's eager to share, providing a substantial amount of detail about the decisions he made for the film, everything from the film’s music to casting to the general look, where he even gets into the film’s colour timing (he is watching a DVD version and does mention it looks different, but by the sounds of it this Blu-ray is closer to what he wanted). He also talks about the original novel, explains the changes he made and why he made them, and then talks about the editing process and how he discovered certain aspects of the film during that process. Impressively he keeps the track going, rarely falls for just talking about what’s happening on screen, and loves to just share his thinking process behind the big picture and every little detail within it. It's a very engaging track that probably benefits from being initially recorded only a few years after the film's theatrical release.

This edition also carries over the film’s trailer along with Don Cheadle’s screen test. Franklin opens the latter 15-minute feature talking about his joy in casting the right people for the right roles and he just loves Cheadle’s performance here. He had spent a section of the commentary talking about the performance and the character, who he feared would come off as “comedic” if he didn’t handle it right, and does talk about this screen test and how Cheadle won him over (he had worked with Cheadle on a short film prior to this). The footage here (sourced from video tape) is a hoot to watch, Cheadle beautifully acting most of his scenes from the film with Washington, who is off-screen.

New to this edition is 22-minutes’ worth of footage from a discussion between Carl Franklin and Eddie Muller, conducted before-and-after a screening of the film in Chicago in 2018 (it sounds like Franklin’s One False Move was also screened on another date). The two talk a little about noir and the film’s influences, and also get a bit into how he fell into filmmaking; surprisingly, he originally had no desire to direct, though a psychic told him it would be his career. He also talks about how Siskel & Ebert catapulted his career with their praise of One False Move, which had originally been released straight-to-video much to Franklin’s disappointed (I recall not even hearing of the film until the two critics started praising it on their show consistently). It’s a great addition.

The disc finally features a small gallery featuring a few promotional photos and the film’s original poster. The real meat to this release, like most Indicator releases, is in the included booklet, limited to first pressings. It starts with a lengthy essay on the film and its play on noir, written by Keith M. Harris, which is then followed by a reprinting of a 1996 interview with Franklin, the director touching on similarities between the film and his previous one, One False Move, before getting into the adaptation and the draw of crime films at the time. The booklet then wonderfully provides backstory to the character of “Easy” Rawlins (played by Denzel Washington in the film) and the novels by Walter Mosley, even providing a small excerpt from “Devil in a Blue Dress” introducing the character. Finally, in one of my favourite sections in their booklets, they provide excerpts from reviews at the time, which surprisingly all end up being positive.

Though still not a stacked edition by any means, the material’s great, with the commentary and booklet being the release’s strongest inclusions.

Closing

The film could benefit from a newer, fresher scan and restoration, but as it is the presentation is fine and the supplements are all well worth going through. Hopefully Indicator can move on to One False Move in the near-future.

BUY AT: Amazon.co.uk

 
 
Directed by: Carl Franklin
Year: 1995
Time: 102 min.
 
Series: Indicator
Edition #: 221
Licensor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: December 14 2020
MSRP: £15.99
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.85:1 ratio
English 2.0 PCM Stereo
English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region B
 
 Audio commentary with writer and director Carl Franklin   Dancing with the Devil (2018): archival interview with Carl Franklin, conducted by the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller at a Noir City screening of Devil in a Blue Dress   Don Cheadle Screen Test (1994): videotape footage of the actor auditioning for the role of Mouse, with introduction by Carl Franklin   Original theatrical trailer   Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials   Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Keith Harris, an archival interview with Carl Franklin from Positif magazine, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits