Devil In A Blue Dress | 1995
Inexplicably underrated and stylish private eye movie from Walter Mosley’s novel, set in 1948 Los Angeles, and filmed entirely on real locations.
It’s essentially an origins story, as unemployed Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins (Denzel Washington) is paid $100 to find a missing woman, and in the process discovers a new career as a private eye. Sadly the planned series of films never materialised. Time for a reboot.
The Forties black centre of LA’s ‘Central Avenue, at 34th Street’ was strikingly recreated in a frequently used, and run-down, area of downtown Los Angeles, along four blocks of Main Street, around the Regent Theater, 448 South Main Street. The historic Regent opened way back in 1914 as The National. It suffered the fate of many movie palaces, being used for decades as a grindhouse and adult movie venue, before finally closing its doors in 2000. It’s since been renovated (with a pizzeria and bar, even) as a live concert venue.
As few photographs of Central Avenue survive, the store names, Lovejoy’s Breakfast Club, Bluebird Market, Waters and Sons Record Shop, were taken from a period directory of black businesses.
Easy proudly drives his 1933 Cadillac along ‘McKinley Avenue. In fact, his neighbourhood is a stretch of Jefferson Park which has remained virtually unchanged in over 50 years, where his house is 2677 South Harcourt Avenue, on the northwest corner of Hickory Street.
Surprisingly, the ‘Alvarado Building’, where Rawlins goes to see Albright about taking on the job, is smack in the centre of Hollywood. It's El Cadiz, 1721 North Sycamore Avenue, just behind the Hollywood Entertainment Museum on Hollywood Boulevard.
The smoky illegal drinking club, above a grocery store at ‘89th Street’, where Easy meets up with Coretta, was an empty storage space, now A&A Grocery Store, 3500 West Pico Boulevard at 2nd Avenue, mid city. Coretta’s ‘South Central’ home was filmed in Boyle Heights.
Easy has to drive out to the coast to meet Albright on the Malibu Sport Fishing Pier, 23000 Pacific Coast Highway, Eastern Malibu, alongside the famous Surfrider Beach. The pier was extensively restored in 2009 and the period sign, which was built specially for the movie, has finally gone.
After Coretta is found murdered, Easy is picked up by the cops and hauled off to the old Lincoln Heights Jail, 421 North Avenue 19, Lincoln Heights, northeast of downtown Los Angeles. No longer in use as a police station, it’s nevertheless busy as a movie location.
The jail was seen on screen as far back as 1954, when Norman Maine (James Mason) graced its drunk tank after falling of the wagon bigtime in George Cukor’s A Star Is Born. It supplied interiors for Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare On Elm Street.
Released from the precinct, Easy walks home, crossing the 4th Street Bridge, a couple of miles to the south. It’s here he’s picked up in the curtained limo by creepy mayoral candidate Terrell (Maury Chaykin).
Easy goes to meet Daphne at the old Ambassador Hotel, which stood at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard, midtown. Another property granted a new lease of life as a film location after closing down, the Ambassador is probably most famous as the ‘Taft Hotel’ where Benjamin conducted his affair with Mrs Robinson in The Graduate. Unbelievably, this venerable landmark was demolished in 2006.
Deciding to go right to the top, Easy calls on opposing candidate Todd Carter (Terry Kinney) at his grandiose mansion. Over in Pasadena, you might recognise Mayfield Senior School, 500 Bellefontaine Street, as the home of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, or from the Steve Martin noir-pastiche Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and the Eddie Murphy remake of The Nutty Professor.
Trying to smoke out gangster Frank Green, Easy asks around for him at jazz club Club Fais Do Do, 5257 West Adams Boulevard, not too far west from the Jefferson Park house location. The club-entertainment centre also became the theatre in which Mia (Emma Stone) stages her one-woman show, So Long Boulder City, in Damien Chazelle's La La Land.
In the Forties, LA’s Compton district, now the very definition of urban inner city, was pretty much a rural environment. When Easy visits Coretta’s boyfriend in ‘South Central’, the town of Piru, about 40 miles to the north of LA, stands in. Another screen regular, Piru is coincidentally also seen in the 1954 A Star Is Born, as well as in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 take on War Of The Worlds.
After a shoot-out at the cabin in ‘Malibu’ (which was built for the film on Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch near Santa Clarita), Carter finally breaks up with Daphne, and Easy hands over incriminating photos, at the Griffith Observatory, 2800 East Observatory Road, in Griffith Park. The Observatory is, of course, already a screen star, from classics such as Rebel Without A Cause, The Terminator and, of course, La La Land again.