#Noirvember: “Devil in a Blue Dress” (1995) starring Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, & Don Cheadle

In a world divided by black and white, Easy Rawlins is about to cross the line. -A tagline for the film

In 1948 in LA, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins (Denzel Washington), a Black WWII vet, is looking for work. At his friend Joppy’s bar, he’s introduced to a white man, DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore), who is looking for someone to help him locating a missing white woman (perhaps hiding in the Black community). Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals) is the fiancée of a wealthy “blue blood,” Todd Carter (Terry Kinney), the fave to become mayor. Daphne is known to frequent Black jazz clubs and spend time w/ a gangster- Frank Green. Easy accepts Albright’s offer; however, he soon finds himself amidst murder, crooked cops, ruthless politicians, and brutal hoods.

Easy: A man once told me that you step out of your door in the morning, and you are already in trouble. The only question is are you on top of that trouble or not?

I recently re-watched this movie (on Hulu). The source novel for this story is by Walter Mosely; the screenplay was written by Carl Franklin (who collaborated w/ Mosely). Jonathan Demme was the main producer of the the film; he’d directed Washington in Philadelphia (1993). At one point, Demme considered directing this film himself, but deferred to Franklin on the strength of his work on One False Move (1992). Washington also helped produce here; we fans know of his production company (Mundy Lane). The cinematographer, Tak Fujimoto, also worked on Star Wars VI: A New Hope, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Sixth Sense. Elmer Bernstein (then in his 70s) composed the musical score- wow! Of course, the score is supplemented with jazz music from that era.

The 1st thing I noticed was the production design; it looks like we’re actually dropped into the late 1940s in the opening scene. We see period-accurate cars, humble/well-kept houses, and Black working-class people of all ages/shades/sizes. We learn (via a friend/neighbor) that Easy is one of the few Black men who owns a house and isn’t a private detective by training; I’d consider him a reluctant hero. Washington (in one of his rare “regular guy” roles) simply inhabits his (non-showy) character. Easy has charm and carries himself w/ dignity. Washington is also looking hot (and sometimes shirtless- wearing just a white tank, suspenders, and khaki dress pants).

Mouse: Easy – if you ain’t want him dead, why you leave him with me?

Beals (5’8″) is NOT intimidated to go toe-to-toe (wearing heels- of course) w/ Washington. I thought she was dressed and made-up to look like Linda Darnell (an actress who appeared in several noir films). We can’t forget Easy’s friend- Mouse (Don Cheadle- in an early screen role)! The young actor (who trained in the theater) makes a great impression; Cheadle brings some (much needed) humor to the dark story. Sizemore creates an unapologetic/dangerous villain who enjoys causing fear and pain.

[1] Franklin’s greatest achievement here is the way he brings the period to life, albeit with a certain amount of nostalgic love for the idea.

Overall this is a solidly enjoyable detective story with all the twists and turns that you could expect from that genre. However, it also benefits from a great sense of place and time that is all through the film, not merely painted on with sets or soundtrack. A class act from Washington and others just adds to the feeling of quality.

[2] It can be argued that Beals as the titular femme fatale of the title is under written, but the character comes with an air of mystery that serves Franklin’s atmosphere very well. Tech credits are high, something of a given with Bernstein and Fujimoto on the list, while Washington turns in another classy show of subtlety and believability.

Lovers of film noir should get much rewards from Devil in a Blue Dress.

[3] The atmosphere is a major asset here; director Carl Franklin has done a magnificent job not only of recreating the Los Angeles of the late forties, but also of showing the story from the black perspective, a rarity in film. All the sights and sounds are there, and if you concentrate real hard you can even detect the smells, too. […] Fans of Washington should watch this, but really anyone who likes film noir will approve.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

#Noirvember: “One False Move” (1992) starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams, & Michael Beach

There was no crime in Star City, Arkansas. No murder. And no fear. Until now. -A tagline for the movie

After a drug rip-off which involves 6 murders, the LAPD are on the hunt for a dangerous trio: a sadistic genius- Pluto (Michael Beach- best known for ER), his volatile former cellmate- Ray (Billy Bob Thornton- also co-wrote the screenplay)- and Ray’s 20ish gf- Fantasia (Cynda Williams). Evidence indicates that these fugitives are headed to the small town of Star City, Arkansas. Detectives Dud Cole (Jim Metzler) and John McFeely (Earl Billings) contact the local Chief of Police- Dale Dixon (Bill Paxton)- then head to Star City to continue their investigation. Dale, an energetic cop/family man, is excited by the chance to participate in a nationwide manhunt.

Can something from 1992 look fresh and unexpected (to modern/jaded eyes)? Every element is firing on ALL cylinders in this (lesser-known) indie film: acting, directing, editing, sound/music, sets/production design, costumes/hair, etc. I kept hearing about how great it was on movie podcasts, so decided to check it out (Amazon Prime). This is NOT a typical action/crime/drama, as it’s more interested in character development. None of the main ensemble is what he/she seems at 1st glance. I was a BIT surprised to see Paxton in a complicated role; he is perfectly cast and able to show his range. Thornton (sporting a few extra lbs. and rat-like ponytail) is an immature/sloppy/volatile villain; his trigger finger is itchy. Beach (pressed/polished) is a calm/calculated villain; he is more dangerous than his partner. Williams (who was married to Thornton: 1990-1992) is NOT the strongest of actors, BUT she does well here, being paired w/ seasoned actors. Like MANY women (incl. women of color), Williams didn’t have much of a career after her 20s. She is also known for her supporting role in Spike Lee’s ‘Mo Better Blues (playing a singer/one of the love interests of Denzel Washington’s character).

The issue of race adds another layer to the story. The director Carl Franklin (a former actor) is a Black man; I 1st heard of him in 1995 (when I saw another great neo noir- Devil in a Blue Dress– starring Washington). The racism depicted in this movie is casual/subtle. The contrast between life/values of the city vs. the small town/country are shown also. For those who want danger, I admit that I was on my the edge of my seat during several scenes. The tension builds… and builds… until the (emotionally powerful) climax! This film was considered “too violent” when it premiered at Sundance; it was produced by a company that makes movies that go direct to video. Luckily, One False Move did get a (limited) big screen release, after critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel spoke of its merits. Siskel put this movie as his fave of 1992; Ebert placed it in 2nd place- WOW! Some of you may recall that 1992 was an esp. strong year for movies; these are some titles: A Few Good Men, Damage, Howard’s End, Malcolm X, The Last of the Mohicans, and Unforgiven.

[2[ The film starts off quite violently, but once it gets going, the emphasis is on good old fashioned character study.

[1 Franklin has a wonderful way with his camera, only revealing enough for us to fill in the blanks, and often his camera is used as a character POV device, with close ups and cuts blending seamlessly with mood of the story.

[3] The script deals with the themes of the contrast between the country and the city, racism, and the mask that many people wear to hide the complexities of their lives and their past. Somehow, all these themes come together in the most seamless and nuanced manner to enhance the poignancy of the film.

[4] I have seen this movie twice. The first time, for the whole movie I was on the edge of my seat. This was an intense film. From the extremely brutal beginning to the climatic end, I couldn’t relax once.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

#Noirvember: Films from Noir City DC (OCT 2022)

This year was my 2nd time attending the Noir City DC Film Festival at AFI Silver Theatre (here in my current neighborhood- Silver Spring, MD). I ended up seeing 3 movies- one of which I’d never watched before. During the 1st weekend, TMC’s Noir Alley host, Eddie Muller, introduced the films. I bought Eddie’s book on the behind-the-scenes story of Gun Crazy (1950).

All the King’s Men starring Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanna Dru, John Derek, & Mercedes McCambridge

Jack Burden (John Ireland) is a newspaper reporter who hears of Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) when his editor sends him to Kanoma County to cover the man. What’s SO special about this “nobody” running for county treasurer? He’s supposedly an honest man! Burden discovers this to be true when he sees Willie delivering a speech and having his son pass out handbills, while local politicians intimidate him. Willie is honest and brave; he’s also a “hick” whose schoolteacher wife educated him at home. He loses the race for treasurer, BUT later makes his way through law school. He becomes an (idealistic) attorney who fights for what is good. Someone in the governor’s office remembers Willie, when they need a patsy to run against the govermor and split the vote of his rival. While these (wiser/experienced) political types underestimate Stark, Burden (who becomes Stark’s biggest supporter) overestimates the man’s idealism.

I’d never seen this movie before; it will esp. interest those of you who follow politics. Here we find some of the same themes as in A Face in the Crowd (1957)- a must-see for fans of classics. After living through the Trump presidency, you’ll (no doubt) find comparisons aplenty! The basis of this movie is a Pulitzer-winning novel, All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren; the book was loosely based on the life of a Louisiana politician- Huey Long. The screenwriter/director, Robert Rossen, also worked on Body and Soul (1947) and The Hustler (1961). Ireland reminded me a BIT of Henry Fonda w/ his looks. This is the 1st movie role for McCambridge; she makes a big impression as a tough/unapologetic political operator. Dru is NOT able to convey deep emotion, so in several moments, she dramatically turn away from the camera. Crawford, known for playing mostly “heavy” (tough guy) roles, seems to inhabit his role here. Both Crawford and McCambridge won Oscars for their work!

A Place in the Sun (1951) starring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, & Shelley Winters

A chance meeting w/ his uncle after his father’s passing leads to George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) being caught in the middle of two worlds and NOT truly belonging in either one. The son of poor Christian missionaries, George meets his wealthy (paternal) uncle, Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes), while working as a bellhop in his uncle’s hotel in Chicago. Wanting a better life for himself, George takes his uncle up on his offer for a job in one of the Eastman factories in California. Under his cousin Earl’s directive, George is placed on the factory assembly line. George sees this position as a stepping stone to something better, which he’s willing to work hard to achieve. Feeling lonely, George breaks the rule of no fraternization when he starts dating a fellow assembly-line worker, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). Several months later, Mr. Eastman suddenly promotes George professionally and personally. Although he’s NOT used to high society, George is soon befriended by beautiful/young socialite, Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor- then just 18 y.o.)

Quite a big audience was present to watch this film; it’s a classic and that stands the test of time. I watched it (w/ my family) as a kid. Mike Nichols said this film was his favorite; the filmmaker watched it 50+ times! Nichols noted that it also influenced how he directed his 1st movie- The Graduate (1967). The director of A Place in the Sun, George Stevens, was one of the most respected/prolific of his era. He came up through the Hollywood studio system, working as a stills photographer, then as a cinematographer. Stevens directed MANY critically-acclaimed/well-loved films, incl. Alice Adams (V early in Katharine Hepburn’s career), Woman of the Year (teaming up Spencer Tracy w/ Hepburn), The More the Merrier (a fun/early rom com), Shane (considered one of the best Westerns), and the epic family drama Giant (also w/ Taylor). The source novel for this movie, An American Tragedy, was written by Theodore Dreiser; it’s based on a true story. The book was adapted into a play by Patrick Kearney. The screenplay was written by Michael Wilson; he also worked on The Bridge on the River Kwai and Laurence of Arabia.

In 1991, this movie was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. One critic wrote that this film represents America, where people are NOT satisfied w/ what they have, BUT always looking for something better. Another critic pointed out the connection shown btwn social class and desirability. The costumes, set design, editing, music/sound, directing, and acting ALL combine to make this an effective (and affecting) story. The director makes some great choices, incl. those memorable close-ups of two of the hottest actors to appear in film. In one pivotal scene, George embraces and speaks reassuringly to Alice, BUT Clift’s body is hidden from the camera. When George and Angela interact, she is often shown in the power position (as a male love interest). Notice their embrace on the balcony, where Clift hunches down and enfolds himself tightly in Taylor’s arms. At the lake, Taylor is sitting up w/ Clift laying his head down in her lap. In the end, did you think that George was a victim of circumstance or a calculating villain?

He would discuss the scene, but not the lines, and would photograph the second or third rehearsal so the scene had an almost improvisatory quality. Stevens would print the first take, then spend the next three hours minutely rehearsing the scene, then film it again. He explained to me that in this way he often got actors’ unplanned reactions that were spontaneous and human and often exactly right. And often when actors overintellectualize or plan their reactions, they aren’t as good. -Winters, describing Stevens’ way of directing

…because Monty was the New York stage actor, and I felt very much the inadequate teenage Hollywood sort of puppet that had just worn pretty clothes and hadn’t really acted except with horses and dogs. -Taylor, on feeling intimidated to act w/ Clift (before they became the best of friends)

Body and Soul (1947) starring John Garfield & Lili Palmer

Charley Davis (John Garfield) wins an amateur boxing match and is hailed as a local wonder. He meets a young woman, Peg (Lili Palmer), the winner of a beauty pageant. Peg lives in the West Village of NYC and is studying to be painter. The young men of Charley’s Lower East Side (LES) neighborhood are mostly jobless; some are looking to make some quick money. Charley’s friend, Shorty (Joseph Pevney- later director of many eps of Star Trek), tries to get the attention of a boxing promoter, Quinn (William Conrad), when he comes to the local pool hall. Suddenly, Charley’s father is killed in a bombing of his small candy store! Charley’s mother, Anna (Anne Revere), is strongly opposed to him fighting; she wants him to continue w/ night school and become a “professional.” Instead of letting his mother sign-up for “relief” (the precursor to welfare), Charley gets Shorty to set up a fight through Quinn. Charley travels to many states and his career grows, as he keeps winning fights. When an unethical promoter, Roberts (Lloyd Gough), shows an interest in Charley, he finds himself faced w/ difficult choices.

This movie (directed by Robert Rossen) is considered to be the best of Garfield’s short/bright career; the screenplay was written by one of his childhood friends- Abraham Polonsky. This role fits Garfield like a (boxing) glove; he also produced the film. Revere (who is related to that Paul Revere) is perhaps NOT the 1st choice for a Jewish mother, BUT she does good in her role (as usual). Palmer (who is British) and Garfield have good romantic chemistry, BUT her (posh) accent is out of place in the gritty world of the LES. Canada Lee plays Ben, a Black boxer who fights Charley, then becomes one of his trainers/close pals. Lee gets a few meaty scenes (rare for this era for people of color in film); he mainly worked in theater. The cinematographer, James Wong Howe (Chinese-American), filmed the pivotal fight holding the camera while being pushed around the ring by an assistant on roller skates! Martin Scorsese saw this movie as a boy; its influences can be seen in Raging Bull (1980), as some viewers noted.

“The Naked City” (1948)

Jean Dexter, a 26 y.o. pretty/blonde model, is found murdered in her apt. by her maid. Two homicide detectives- a veteran of the force w/ a lilting Irish accent- Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald)- and young rookie- Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor)- are sent to investigate. Suspicion falls on various characters who ALL have some connection w/ a string of burglaries in high-end apts. Then, a burglar is found dead who once had a partner named “Willie.” The climax is V fast-paced manhunt.

The film made history for its use of 100+ exterior locations. It was filmed (in a semi-documentary style) almost entirely on the streets of NYC! Most of these scenes were shot w/o the public’s knowledge; photographer William H. Daniels and his (uncredited) assistant, Roy Tripp, filmed using a hidden camera from the back of an old moving van. In some cases, a fake newsstand w/ a hidden camera inside was set up on the sidewalk to film the actors. The director, Jules Dassin, hired a juggler to distract the crowds from filming. In other cases, a man was hired to climb up on a light post and give a patriotic speech (waving the American flag) to get the crowd’s attention. This is one of the 1st films to list technical (non-acting) credits at the end; this has become the norm since the ’80s.

A young Stanley Kubrick was sometimes present on the set taking photos for Look magazine. Miss Dexter’s apt building is shown as “52 West 83rd Street;” the facade is actually the Lathrop, at 46 West 83rd St. (a short walk from Central Park). The police building shown after she is found was the NYPD police headquarters; the building is still there, located at Centre and Grand Streets (now luxury condos). NYPD’s 10th precinct (where the lead detectives are based) is in the same building at 230 W. 20th St, in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The two young ladies outside the dress shop talk re: the Waldorf Astoria Hotel w/ Frank singing; this was likely a reference to Frank Sinatra (often seen at that famous hotel). Halloran’s family (doting wife and young son) lives in a rowhouse in Jackson Heights, Queens (where I lived for about 4 yrs).

If you’re a fan of police procedural dramas (such as “Law and Order,” then this film will definitely be of interest to you! Cops (w/ various quirks/accents) make funny quips, then pound the pavement tirelessly looking for clues. They face disappointment at times, then suddenly are faced w/ danger (of course- that’s the nature of the job). NYC is like another character in the story!

[1] The crime itself is not that interesting, but the style used to tell the tale (with a voice-over narration telling us at the conclusion that this is just one story in a city of millions) is what makes it far superior to most detective stories. That and the fact that New York City is given the spotlight for location photography that really hits the mark.

[2] This film is in many ways a good example of Film Noir–since it portrays a murder and its investigation, has a classic Noir-style ending and has some very “dark” story elements. However, unlike traditional Film Noir, the dialog and lighting are much more like a traditional film–less snappy dialog and more of an emphasis on conventional police work.


[3] The performances are adequate. Don Taylor is bland and doesn’t have any accent but he’s easy to identify with, at least for me, because he’s so pleasant and handsome. Barry Fitzgerald his smile is almost a mile wide, a caricature of itself, a lovable guy.

[4] …the real star of The Naked City is 1948 New York… No accident that The Naked City won Oscars for black and white cinematography and editing.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Berlin Express” (1948) starring Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, Charles Corvin, & Paul Lukas

Trapped on a Train of Terror! -A tagline (on the movie poster)

In a divided Germany (shortly after WWII), passengers from several nations are on a train heading to an international conference. Lucienne (Merle Oberon) is a French secretary who catches the eye of almost every man on the train. Dr. Bernhardt (Paul Lukas) is Lucienne’s German employer. Robert Lindley (Robert Ryan) is an American working for the Dept. of Agriculture. Perrot (Charles Corvin) is a French businessman. Sterling (Robert Coote) is an Englishman. Lt. Maxim Kirosilov is young Soviet soldier. When one of these passengers (working for peace) is kidnapped in Berlin, the others set aside their differences/work together to find him. Would you risk your life to help a stranger, IF it was for the good of the world?

Narrator: [voiceover] That’s right – the dove of peace was a pigeon. A dead pigeon.

The director, Jacques Tourneur, also directed the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947). The cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, was married to Oberon; he came up w/ a lighting technique which hid the scars on Oberon’s face. Cary Grant and John Garfield were considered for roles in this film. This is the 1st Hollywood production in Germany after WWII. The crew was the 1st to receive permission to film in Berlin’s Soviet zone. At the time of production, Berlin was divided into 4 separate sectors, controlled by the English, French, Soviet (now Russian), and American armed forces. American soldiers stationed at the I. G. Farben munitions building in Salzburg, left untouched during bombing raids (so the U.S. could use it as an occupation HQ), appeared in the film as extras.

Perrot: What chance has a European got with an American around?

Lindley: I’m afraid you overestimate us.

Perrot: Huh, not at all. How can we compete with your American charm, your chocolate…

Sterling: Your soap?

Perrot: Your cigarettes?

Lindley: Well, it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Berlin Express is categorized as a crime drama, film noir, and thriller. It’s an unusual movie for its time; it has an international cast (before that became common) and was filmed on location (in rare/unexpected places). I rarely guessed what was going to happen next! I esp. liked the friendly banter between the 3 men (Lindley, Perrot, and Sterling) who seek the attention of Lucienne (who is NOT easily impressed). Each man has a different personality; it’s refreshing that they behave like gentlemen (instead of pushy jerks). Ryan is looking youngish/handsome and gets to show his charm/confidence in a (rare) good guy role. I’m NOT going to say much more; check this movie out! You can rent it on YouTube.

[1] Tourneur did a grand job in making use of the bombed out locations in Frankfurt where most of the story takes place. It certainly gives authenticity to the story.

[2] Filmed in the rubble of German cities in 1946 this film, basically is a very good and constantly weaving espionage drama; and not unlike NORTH BY NORTHWEST in deception, missing persons, terrific set pieces in ruins and epic visuals of genuine locations. Robert Ryan as the US everyman, all casual but tough, Merle Oberon gives ze Fronnch occent a good go, and a solid cast enjoying a provocative script.

[3] Some of the lines seemed stilted and staged, particularly toward the end, but given the time period when the movie was filmed, not at all surprising. There was a good mix of characters, but the real star of the film is the location: there are wonderful shots of Berlin and Frankfurt right after the war, and the devastation around the characters adds a powerful unspoken dimension to the film.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews