Devil in a Blue Dress: Don Cheadle as Mouse Alexander
Don Cheadle as Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, smooth but dangerous gunsel
Los Angeles, Summer 1948
Film: Devil in a Blue Dress
Release Date: September 29, 1995
Director: Carl Franklin
Costume Designer: Sharen Davis
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
As #Noirvember comes to a close, I want to celebrate one of my favorite characters from neo-noir, the trigger-happy “Mouse” Alexander in Devil in a Blue Dress, played by Don Cheadle who was born November 29, 1964 and celebrates his 58th birthday today.
Fledgling private eye Ezekial “Easy” Rawlins (Denzel Washington) calls his old pal Mouse for some high-caliber help as the stakes climb but soon regrets his decision: “You ain’t been in my house five minutes and you gone and shot somebody already, Mouse!” Dangerous as he may be, Mouse remains fiercely loyal to Easy—aside from drunkenly pulling both of his guns on his friend—and proves to be a crucial (and charismatic!) element for the final act as Easy confronts gangster DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) and his armed thugs who have kidnapped Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), the eponymous cerulean-clad femme fatale.
Adapted from Walter Mosley’s excellent 1990 novel of the same name, Devil in a Blue Dress received many deserved accolades as an elevated entry in the oft-tired noir canon, including Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and National Society of Film Critics Awards for Cheadle’s enthusiastic performance as the live-wire Mouse.
What’d He Wear?
Dressed in a charcoal-brown suit with a tonal bar-stripe, Mouse makes his dramatic entrance into the proceedings just in time to save Easy from the knife-wielding Frank Green (Joseph Latimore), though his trigger-happy tactics scare the hood away and ruin Easy’s chance of converting him into an effective source of information.
Mouse’s wardrobe reflects much of the “Bold Look” that Esquire had observed emerging in American menswear through 1948, characterized not just by flashy ties but also full-cut tailoring that echoes a newfound extravagance in the economically optimistic years after the end of World War III saw both an American victory as well as the end of wartime fabric rationing.
The double-breasted jacket is dramatically cut and styled with wide, full-bellied peak lapels, padded shoulders, and roped sleeveheads. The buttons are arranged in a traditional 6×2 configuration, though Moose always wears his jacket open so he can better access the guns in his waistband. The ventless jacket also has a welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, and three-button cuffs.
The reverse-pleated trousers have an era-correct long rise to Don Cheadle’s natural waist, where they’re rigged with belt loops that go unused as Moose instead favors suspenders (braces) that fasten to buttons along the inside of the trouser waistband. These suspenders are brown cloth with triple rows of broken tan stitching, connected to the waistband buttons by tan leather hooks.
Mouse wears a lavender melange shirt with periwinkle bar stripes, bordered on each side with a narrow slate-colored stripe. The shirt has a point collar and double (French) cuffs that Mouse secures with a set of gold links.
His silk tie reflects the “swing tie” trend of the ’40s, characterized by swathes of bold printed silk that flare out from the knot to a wide blade. The predominant color is a bright scarlet-red, with a yellow center that follows the shape of the tie and includes some of the brown stenciled abstract designs.
Moose wears a dark brown felt derby hat with a matching brown grosgrain band and edge trim. Also known as a bowler hat across the pond—in recognition of 19th century London hatmakers Thomas and William Bowler—this round-crowned style had generally fallen out of fashion by the late 1940s, eclipsed in popularity by the fedora, trilby, and more formal homburg.
The hat was likely chosen to continue Walter Mosley’s first description of Mouse, which mentions his “plum-colored suit and a felt brown derby.”
After the fracas with Frank, Moose bemoans “you got blood on my coat, Easy! This is a damn expensive coat!”, providing some context for why he continues to wear the suit trousers but with a different jacket. Thus for the final act of Devil in a Blue Dress, Mouse wears another double-breasted jacket made of gold hopsack.
Like the suit jacket, this jacket features a classic 6×2-button configuration and wide, padded shoulders, though the broad peak lapels are even wider. The ventless jacket also has three-button cuffs, straight jetted hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket.
With this jacket, Mouse wears a warm tan-colored shirt with a point collar, front placket, and double cuffs that he again wears with gold links. He wears another red-and-gold swing tie—albeit in more of a coral red than the earlier scarlet tie—with a chaotically abstract print that includes, among the yellow strands and gray filmstrip-like bars, the white-and-red nuclear radiation symbol that would have been all too familiar in these early Cold War years.
Mouse wears the same self-striped charcoal-brown pleated suit trousers, now held up by a set of green, orange, and brown-striped cloth suspenders that have silver adjusters and tan leather hooks connected to the inside of the trousers waistband.
Mouse wears a gold signet ring that he switches from his right pinky in his first scenes onto his left pinky. His steel wristwatch has a round white dial and a brown leather strap.
Mouse’s wardrobe differs slightly from the items specifically mentioned in Walter Mosley’s novel, which introduces Mouse in the present-day wearing “a plaid zoot suit with Broadway suspenders down the front of his shirt” as well as “spats on over his patent leather shoes,” which feels appropriately snappy for Mouse even though we never actually see his footwear on screen.
What to Imbibe
At Dupree’s house, Mouse washes down his chicken with most of a bottle of Kentucky Tavern, a Bourbon dating back to 1880 that transferred operations several times during the generations to follow before landing at the Barton Distillery in Bardstown, where it’s currently produced by the Sazerac Company.
In the novel, Mouse intimidates Frank with what he describes as “this here long-barreled forty-one caliber pistol,” which Easy himself narrates to be “the biggest pistol I had ever seen.” At the time of the movie’s setting in the late 1940s, most .41-caliber handguns would have been outdated .41 Long Colt single-action revolvers (aside from the then-discontinued Colt Official Police, which was also occasionally chambered in .41 Long Colt), so the movie’s armorers instead leaned into the size aspect of Mouse’s sidearm.
The already large Webley Mk VI looks massive when handled by the 5’8″ Don Cheadle. Chambered for the large .455 Webley cartridge, the Webley Mk VI was the latest iteration of the double-action Webley service revolver that was first adopted by the British military in 1887. The design underwent five more subsequent revisions over the following three decades until May 1915, when the Webley Mk VI was authorized for use. The Webley was generally phased out by the 1930s in favor of the more modernized Enfield variant, but older stocks were pressed into service during World War II.
Unlike its four- and five-inch barreled predecessors, the Webley Mk VI was standardized with a six-inch barrel that brought its overall length to just ¾” shy of a foot and weighed nearly two-and-a-half pounds… quite a hefty bit of firepower for Mouse to tuck into his waistband.
Just in case the substantial Webley wasn’t enough, Mouse also carries the smaller Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless, the paramount sidearm for concealed carry in the early 20th century due to its smaller size, reliable operation, and the “hammerless” slide that actually shrouded the hammer so that it couldn’t snag when being drawn from one’s pocket. Unlike earlier pocket-oriented pistols like derringers, the John Browning-designed Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless could carry up to eight (.32 ACP) or seven (.380 ACP) rounds in the magazine, plus an extra in the chamber.
Mouse actually handles both his Webley revolver and the blued, pearl-handled Colt pistol during his introductory scene, memorably also drawing both on Easy while in a confused, drunken stupor.
How to Get the Look
Mouse Alexander’s colorful wardrobe recalls the extravagant elegance of “Bold Look” menswear from the late ’40s, illustrated by his full-cut tailoring, sharp point collars, and silk swing ties and made his own by the addition of his brown derby hat.
- Charcoal-brown self-striped suit:
- Double-breasted 6×2-button jacket with wide peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops and side pockets
- Lavender melange slate-striped shirt with point collar and double/French cuffs
- Gold cuff links
- Red-and-gold abstract-print silk swing tie
- Striped cloth suspenders
- Brown felt derby hat
- Gold signet pinky ring
- Stainless steel wristwatch with round white dial on brown leather strap
- Patent leather shoes and spats (probably!)
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and read Walter Mosley’s novel.
If you ain’t want him killed, why’d you leave him with me?