When easy money comes knocking for Denzel Washington, he goes looking for a Devil in a Blue Dress. This slick film noir thriller from 1995 was the first adaptation of novelist Walter Mosley’s detective series - and there should have been more! This might not be every mystery fan’s brand, but this rich production with an excellent cast has a lot to offer with an interesting spin on a classic genre. After a fine turn from Twilight Time, Devil in a Blue Dress finds a new home with The Criterion Collection in an exciting new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release. The new transfer is magnificent with Dolby Vision enriching the period visual stylings. The audio is pitch-perfect, and the assortment of bonus features is a nice complement to the film. Highly Recommended.
I previously reviewed Devil in a Blue Dress in the long time ago of 2015, it was actually one of my earliest reviews! In the seven years since my last crack at Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release, my enthusiasm for the film hasn’t diminished. If anything I like this movie more because the black-focused segregated characters and locations offered such a unique take on the film noir detective story. Between the setting, storyline, themes, cast, and main characters, there are really very few films like it. There were a few stabs in the 70s within the Blaxploitation scene and films like Sweet Sweetback’s Badd Asssss Song, but there’s nothing quite like Devil in a Blue Dress. Later on, you had films like the Hughes Brothers’ Dead Presidents that dipped into some of the trappings of film noir, but they didn’t fully embrace the classic stylings, narration, deadly dames, crooked cops, or a malevolent lynchpin pulling the strings.
It still baffles me that this film didn’t spawn a series of Easy Rawlins stories. Novelist Walter Mosley has kept the character going for fifteen novels now and as I'm steadily picking through the series, any one of them could be a movie or a TV series. Carl Franklin’s Devil in a Blue Dress should have kicked off a franchise. If not with Denzel (who could certainly reprise the character for one of the later novels) then I’d personally say his son John David Washington is certainly a talented enough presence to take on the role. There’d been rumblings of a television series for several years, but to date, nothing has taken off. As of 2021, Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment was in the position to produce a new series with Sylvain White producing and directing the pilot but over a year after that news broke, I haven’t seen or heard any further development. Which is a damned shame, I’ve loved the books as I’m now into the seventh entry of the series and they’re ripe material for the big screen or this new television renaissance we’re enjoying.
Here’s an excerpt from my 2015 Blu-ray review of Devil in a Blue Dress:
"Part of what I love about 'Devil in a Blue Dress' is how competently it recreates the late 1940s, early 1950s style atmosphere. Some movies that try to capture that magic can get stuck by trying to fill scenes with authentic-sounding lingo and dialogue that only works to expose how shallow that particular film may be. Writer and director Carl Franklin doesn't bother with the lingo, his film's focus is on telling a compelling story with a conflicted and relatable lead character. The lingo of the day is there, sure, but it's not in the forefront and it doesn't try to define the film.
I also appreciate this film's look at race relations just before the civil rights era gripped the nation. I appreciate how 'Devil in a Blue Dress' looks at the material by not shoving it right in your face, but doesn't let the themes slip away either. So much of the plot and where and how characters end up where they're at is because of their race, or mixed race in some cases, but at the same time, these character aspects aren't the main thrust. By bringing the issues up with a deft and subtle finger, Carl Franklin was able to create a film that has a lot to say about an important subject without sacrificing the film's plot.
While Denzel Washington is the main feature of the film and delivers a heck of a performance, the real stand-out here is Don Cheadle as the quick-on-the-draw Mouse. While Cheadle was far from being a newcomer, it's easy to say that his portrayal of Mouse was his breakout moment. From the first scene that Mouse enters to the very last, Cheadle steals the show from the film's main stars to great effect. Tom Sizemore's Albright is also a performance of note as the once great actor gives the character enough menace and weight just with a simple sideways glance or how he shifts his weight on his feet to feel dangerous. Sure the guy packs a heater and is threatening with a simple bread knife, but he doesn't need those implements to be dangerous. Jennifer Beals makes a fine Daphne Monet, but she lacks the presence and magnetism of her 'Flash Dance' days. She's essentially the film's McGuffin, but she's given very little to do here by playing a smaller secondary character against a larger canvas of characters."
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Devil in a Blue Dress gets a new life on disc as a member of The Criterion Collection. Previously released by Twilight Time, this new release picks up a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and Blu-ray disc, housed in Criterion’s standard clear case with spine number 1135. The 4K version is pressed on a BD-66 disc with the 1080p rolling with a Region A BD-50 disc. Each disc gets its own tray to rest on without being stacked. Also included is a foldout booklet featuring an essay by Julian Kimble with photos and restoration information. Each disc loads to Criterion’s standard semi-animated main menu style with their typical navigation structure.
The Criterion Collection delivers another winning 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release with this new restoration of Devil in a Blue Dress. Sourced from a new 4K restoration supervised by director Carl Franklin, this 2160p Dolby Vision (and HDR10) 1.85:1 transfer is quite simply stunning. I was already a big fan of the Twilight Time disc, but a few years and some technological wonders have breathed new life into this film. That first shot of Easy sitting in the bar looking a the newspaper is so vividly detailed with lifelike image depth, it just floored me. Throughout the film, I felt like I was seeing small details in characters’ clothing, set design, and clothing and makeup work. Fine film grain has been retained for a truly welcome cinematic appearance.
This new restoration also fully embraces the film’s color pallet with a lot of enhancements thanks to a careful Dolby Vision grading. Much of the daylight sequences offer this yellowish tone the post-war 1940s are supposed to be a golden era but in plain daylight, it’s clearly not going well for most people. So to that end, there is a frequent yellow/brown tone throughout but skin tones remain healthy with bright primary pop when necessary for signage, blood, or a specific blue dress. But there are plenty of night and dark shadowy scenes throughout that now pick up some welcome enhancements.
For its time, the Twilight Time disc was very good, but it struggled with the deep black shadows and even some of the bright daylight lighting sources when Albright breaks up the fight with Easy and the white guys or when we first meet Mouse are prime comparison examples. Those black shadows behind Albright now offer more lighting nuance and depth without getting too thick, and likewise inside Easy’s home the subtle shadows and shading of the location yield more fine details and features without just making the room look dark brown. Exemplified by the number of undershirts and pressed dress shirts, whites are clean and crisp without issue. As a whole, I’m incredibly impressed with this release
This release of Devil in a Blue Dress comes home with a crisp and clean DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. Reading the transfer notes in the booklet makes it sound like this is a brand new track and not the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix featured on the 2015 Twilight Time disc. Flipping between discs for a few places, I didn’t hear anything notably different between quiet conversational moments or for some more of the action-focused scenes. If there is a difference it’s so slight I just didn’t detect it. Regardless, this is a terrific audio mix with a nice rich immersive quality. The scene could just be Easy in a bar alone, but with the background street sounds or the shuffling of the bartender, there’s always something moving in the surrounds to keep this mix active and engaging. Throughout, the dialog is clean and clear without issue and levels are spot on without any need for monitoring.
In a nice pickup for this release, The Criterion Collection brings in some welcome new and archival bonus features to pick through. At the head of the pack is the archival audio commentary with Writer/Director Carl Franklin - it’s an interesting listen for sure and if you’re a fan of the film or the novels give it a spin. The other bit of archival material is the great Don Cheadle casting video; I don’t know who else they were testing for the part, but you can imagine seeing Cheadle doing his thing and everyone in casting basically just throwing out everyone else’s headshots. After that we get some new interviews with Don Cheadle and Carl Franklin with a new interview with author Walter Mosley - all are worth the time. After that, there’s the terrific conversation with Eddie Muller and Carl Franklin at the 2018 Noir City Film Festival from 2018.
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc
Not every would-be franchise starters find their legs at the box office. Devil in a Blue Dress should have been gold when it hit theaters featuring a charismatic Denzel Washington in his prime, a slick film noir story, and a classy production helmed by Carl Franklin. But it was a box office bust and franchise hopes for a series of Easy Rawlins films or shows have inched forward slowly. Now The Criterion Collection adds this fantastic thriller to their ever-growing list of titles with a terrific 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release. The new Dolby Vision transfer is a masterful restoration effort breathing new life into this impressive undertaking. With a great audio mix and a fine assortment of bonus features, fans of the film and the novels have something to celebrate. Highly Recommended