Screen Gems

About that time Divine played a crime lord…

Trouble in Mind

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Divine: Trouble in Mind

The drag performer Divine left behind a marvelous legacy, one full of campy humor, music, great wigs, and genderfluid performances. Before his untimely death in 1988, he’d begun to show off his true talent as a character actor, regardless of the gender of the role.

Case in point: the overlooked crime noir Trouble in Mind. The film follows Hawk (Kris Kristofferson), a former cop trying to reassemble his life after serving a stint in prison for murder. He immediately crosses paths with Coop and his wife Georgia (Keith Carradine and Lori Singer), and takes a more-than-platonic liking to the young mother. In a struggle to survive, both Coop and Hawk get entangled with local crime boss Hilly Blue (Divine), which leads the group into a dangerous underworld that threatens Coop & Hawk’s freedom, as well as their lives.

In the role of the villainous Hilly Blue, Divine shines, creating a cheeky, erudite mobster somewhat akin to Marlon Brando’s work in The Godfather or Sydney Greenstreet’s in Casablanca. His light, even friendly demeanor masks a quiet menace and ruthless lust for power; when Hilly says “From the very moment I want something, I have to have it. Nothing ever satisfies me,” we know he’s serious. Divine plays the moment both as a quiet observation and as an ominous warning. He may seem effete, but he won’t hesitate to use violence. It helps, of course, that writer/director Alan Rudolph gives him the movie’s best lines, loaded with snark and acid.

Trouble in Mind is a highly stylized film; maybe that’s why audiences didn’t quite know what to make of it back in 1985. The late, great Roger Ebert named it one of the Best Films of the Year, and praised Divine for his performance. When viewed today, it plays like a visionary work of art, and a reminder that the sudden death of Divine is our loss. We could have spent years watching him play character parts that showcased his unique charisma. Thank goodness, then, that Trouble in Mind showcases his abilities. Come for Divine, stay for the weird, wonderful noir.

Streams on Tubi & Amazon.