There aren’t many private eyes on either the big or small screens these days. Police detectives, quite a few. Private ones, no — especially ones in which the story-line takes the genre seriously. Two standouts — and they are not new — are Devil in a Blue Dress and Twilight (we’re not talking vampires here). Devil was released in 1995 and the Twilight in 1998.
Though very different in setting and tone and with the only similarities being that they were about private investigators (with excellent soundtracks by Elmer Bernstein), they would make for a solid evening of — I hesitate to say noir because it is a touchy subject — film that harkens back to earlier P.I. filmmaking.
Writer Walter Mosely introduced Easy Rawlins in his first book, Devil in a Blue Dress. The book won the Shamus Award (Private Eye Writers of America) for Best First Novel and was nominated similarly for the Edgar (Mystery Writers of America) that year. Mosely never had to look back. Devil was an immediate success and spawned a dozen books featuring Rawlins. It was also the basis for an equally successful film, which starred Denzel Washington as Rawlins and a young Don Cheadle as Mouse Alexander, Rawlin’s sociopathic partner.
If you have Gene Hackman, James Garner and Susan Sarandon, you might think having Paul Newman, as the aging private eye was gilding the lily. It’s more like the British filmmakers bringing the best, most experienced power to bear. Paul Newman was great. So was Hackman and Sarandon. Garner was exceptional; but the movie bombed at the box office and its initial critical reception was mixed. Maybe they should have added some special effects for those who require explosions and car chases to stay tuned, but if you prefer a well-acted, quality story to cars flying through the air in slow motion, Twilight will probably top a fine double feature for you.
Though there are plenty of clinking ice cubes in Twilight, it’s really a kind of beer evening.