Bedeviled by Color

Devil in a Blue Dress depicts the '40s antecedents of L.A.'s racial fracturing

When Terell says, "I'm a friend to the Negro," it's all Easy can do to keep his eyes from rolling. It's the racial equivalent of saying, "I'll call you." Terell is an issuer of polite, soothing words that have nothing to do with the reality Easy understands firsthand: policemen whose machine-gun spewing of the word "nigger" is their least aggressive gesture.

During Easy's tense meeting with Todd Carter, the candidate lets it be known that he's personal friends with the chief of police. Message: Tell me where Daphne is, and I'll make sure the cops leave you alone. Subtext: If you don't tell me what I want to know, I'll let the police go about their business, which as we both know is an undisguised exercise in racial herding.

Devil in a Blue Dress is a beautifully designed and acted period piece, fragrant with atmosphere and taut with uncertainty. Unfortunately, it's also more than that. In its calm voice, it tells us things we'd rather not hear but already know.

Devil in a Blue Dress opens Fri, Sept. 29, at area theaters.

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