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  • Writer's pictureAndy Ross

Devil in a Blue Dress in Summertime

The Criterion Collection added two movies to their lineup this month. One is a classic David Lean film from 1955 they’ve released before on Laserdisc and DVD, and the other is one of the best modern film noirs that’s new to the collection, and part of their new series of 4K Ultra HD releases. That film is director Carl Franklin’s highly underappreciated “Devil in a Blue Dress” from 1995.

British director David Lean is best known today for his large-scale epics like “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “Doctor Zhivago.” But Lean spent much of his career making smaller-scale films in England. 1955’s “Summertime” has been called by many the film that links these two phases of his career. The film stars Katherine Hepburn as a very independent American tourist who has gone abroad to Rome for the first time.

Despite being a woman of bold independence, like many proudly independent people, she is lonely. As she enjoys the sights of Rome, the constant barrage of couples in love parading around her begins to bring up emotions. Yet, an unexpected run-in with a local shopkeeper soon causes her to find herself wrapped up in a little affair.

Shot on location in Rome in Technicolor, the film is a beautiful and romantic movie. Touching, and also absolutely dazzling to the eyes. Hepburn is, unsurprisingly, fantastic in the part, and considering she was a fiercely independent human the casting is perfect. The new blu-ray of “Summertime” from Criterion comes with a stunning new restoration made from the 35mm original camera negative.

The colors will knock you out, seeing vintage Technicolor, which I still contend is the best color in movies ever got, is a true visual feast for the eyes in high definition. The movie is clear, and sharp, with the right amount of natural film grain. Extras include an interview with film historian Melaine Williams, plus a vintage interview with Lean and the cinematographer, Jack Hildyard. The disc is a must-own for any film lover’s collection.

1995’s “Devil in a Blue Dress” stars Denzel Washington and an early in his career Don Cheadle. Based on Walter Mosley’s novel of the same name, Washington stars as Easy Rawlins. Rawlins is an ex-GI living in post world war two Los Angeles. Rawlins is looking for work and soon is recruited to find a missing lover of a candidate running for mayor.

What begins as a way to make a quick buck soon has Rawlings becoming a private detective as he gets caught up in a deep web of murder, scandal, and political intrigue. “Devil in a Blue Dress” is one of the best modern noirs I have ever seen. Carl Franklin has crafted a great movie that plays with and subverts the tropes of classic noir, while also bringing into the light the realities of African American life during the post-war era, but also has lingered on for far too long to the present.

Restored from the original 35mm camera negative and presented in 4K UHD, “Devil in a Blue Dress” is a jaw-dropping experience. The colors, the depth, and the detail all absolutely wow, giving an extremely film-like look to the presentation. The audio is a DTS-HD 5.1 track taken from the original six-channel magnetic masters. Bonus features and plentiful and well done, featuring the good commentary track that Franklin recorded for the film’s DVD release in 1998.

New extras include a conversation between Franklin and actor Cheadle, a conversation between author Mosley and screenwriter Attica Locke, plus an onstage chat between noir expert Eddie Muller and Franklin from the 2018 Noir City Film Festival. This is a great movie that deserves more attention, it’s another must-own.

As usual, Criterion has knocked it out of the park with a pair of releases that stun and are a worthy addition to any home film library. Both are very much worth your time and I hope you’ll check them out soon. I’ll see you next week.


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