Devil in a Blue Dress is an excellent mystery that captures period details in a way most similar movies gloss over. Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) served in WWII and used the GI Bill money to move from his native Houston to the LA area. He owns his own house, which was rare for African-Americans at the time, and is proud of it. He loses his job, and is worried about making his mortgage until he is hired to find the former girlfriend of the richest man in town. A few twists and turns later, two murders are pinned on Easy and he’s getting heat from all sides – that’s when he calls in the help of his trigger-happy friend Mouse (Don Cheadle). From there the movie really heats up. This is a solid, old-fashioned crime mystery that keeps you riveted without any post-Unusual-Suspects mess.
Denzel does admirably, although Don Cheadle (in his breakout performance) soars above those around him while managing to blend into the film effortlessly. While it’s repeated maybe one time too often, Easy’s (Denzel) pride in owning his own house really makes the ending resonate in a richer way than it might have. When I’ve caught up with my reading, Walter Mosley’s going on the list. This movie made me yearn for a series with Denzel as Easy and Cheadle as Mouse, but alas, it wasn’t to be.
In a Lonely Place is about Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), a hard-drinking screenwriter with a temper. He becomes the most likely suspect when the coat-check girl he takes home is found murdered. His new neighbor (Gloria Grahame) serves as his alibi, and the two start a snarky romance. Steele’s wild temper brings tension into the romance and his relationship with his agent and best friend, Mel (Art Smith). Steele gets so out of control that Laurel, the neighbor/romance/alibi, begins to doubt herself and suspect Steele of the murder.
I went into this thinking it was a murder mystery with a little romance and a little character study. About halfway through, I realized it’s an intense character study and romance with a murder mystery hung on it to create tension and provide catalyst. Several of the other characters are likable, but the movie is pretty focused on Bogey and it can get a little claustrophobic, even though his performance is deep and well done. Art Smith really shines in the second and third acts, and his character’s relationship with Steele (Bogart) will be intimately familiar to anyone who’s a fan of the House/Wilson relationship on that TV show.