|Raw Deal (1948)
Run time: 79 min
Genres: Crime | Film-Noir | Drama
Director: Anthony Mann
Writers: Leopold Atlas, John C. Higgins
Stars: Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt
Joe Sullivan is itching to get out of prison. He’s taken the rap for Rick, who owes him $50 Grand. Rick sets up an escape for Joe, knowing that Joe will be caught escaping and be shot or locked away forever. But with the help of his love-struck girl Pat and his sympathetic legal caseworker Ann, Joe gets further than he’s supposed to, and we are posed with two very important questions: Is Joe really the cold and heartless criminal he appears to be, or is there a heart of gold under that gritty exterior? And does Joe belong with the tough, street-wise Pat, or with the prim, moralizing Ann? Written by Martin Lewison <email@example.com>
Release Date: 26 May 1948 (USA)
Folks can go on and on about a visual style. The fact is, RAW DEAL exemplifies more than just an atmosphere. There’s a catalyst for horrific violence driven by the desperation of the characters, their psychosis and their inability to escape from the choking shadows not only around them, but inside their heads. This movie, a cheap b-production with only one actor with stand-out talent, Claire Trevor, and a young powerful Raymond Burr, manages to seem authentic all the way through because it doesn’t hold back on the violence or the threat of violence. There’s a desperate prison escape, by hero O’Keefe, who’s trying to get to Burr the crime boss, for whom he took a fall. Burr wants O’Keefe dead so he doesn’t have to worry about O’Keefe ratting on him. O’Keefe uses two women he knows, his floozy Trevor and the good-girl counselor he really loves (she’s cast in light and draws him like a moth) as cover. The movie then follows O’Keefe as he does a mini-FUGITIVE, like the television show, making love to his women and encountering a raging lunatic in the woods who doesn’t have anything to do with him, but might get O’Keefe caught anyway by swarming police on the hunt for the maniac.
In this rough noir, you get a suicide by cop, a guy fighting not to get his face impaled on a set of wall antlers, a flaming friccasee thrown in a drunk woman’s face, a nasty deception and the good girl getting tortured, and a bloody final encounter between psycho Burr and O’Keefe, with plenty of face-ripping and falling from burning buildings. That’s not standard stuff, and if you can get into babe Trevor with light shimmering on her lips as she tries to figure out how to save her thug O’Keefe from the police, Burr, and the younger angel ready to steal him away, then you will enjoy hell out of this film.
What a perfect film for insomniacs. This is wonderful to watch with the lights out. With that said, let’s look at this underrated work by director Anthony Mann. First the obvious…John Alton is a genius. The lighting, or lack thereof, is visually striking. What this man could do with a $10 budget was simply amazing. Secondly, let’s note the unusual commentary/narration by Academy Award winner(she won the award that same year for her role in "Key Largo"), Claire Trevor. I can count only a couple of film noir in which the voice-over is done by a doomed (in love)woman. Her sense of entrapment perfectly encapsulate’s the mood of this film. Now, let’s also note the odd use of a theremin for the bulk of the music used in this film. Check it out…very creepy. But one of the most overlooked components in this film has to be the hulking visage of Raymond Burr. This guy had to be in just about every film made between 1944 and 1960. In this particular film he is a sado-masochistic pyromaniac. In just about every scene he is torching somebody, whether it be by using his lighter, or throwing a flaming flambeaus at some poor unsuspecting party-going girl or by just burning down his own apartment. He’s a nutcase…but a joy to watch on the screen.
Okay, so the story itself isn’t the most original. But with everything else this film has going for it, I HIGHLY recommend anyone even slightly interested, to go buy it NOW! It’s one of my absolute favorite film noir’s. Oh…I almost forgot. Check out Marsha Hunt in this film. She’s stunning.
Director Anthony Mann and photography whiz John Alton combined for several film noirs in the late 1940s and this was one. Most of them had the same feel which meant great photography and an okay-but-nothing-spectacular story.
This one was different in that in had a female doing the narration. I wouldn’t mind that but in this kind of hard-boiled film, a feminine voice such as Claire Trevor’s didn’t sound right. Now, if she an edge to her a la Marie Windsor or Ann Savage, fine, but Trevor’s voice didn’t fit. Trevor was a good noir actress, but using her for narration was questionable.
It did have an apt villain, however, in Raymond Burr. The burly Burr was brutal, which means he was effective. He looked mean and sounded mean, all the way up to his 1954 "Rear Window" performance before going good-guy with television’s Perry Mason. Dennis O’Keefe, Marsha Hunt and John Ireland also star and do a fine job. There is a lot of tough dialog in here.
There are tons of nighttime shots, very dark scenes so make sure you view this on DVD because prior VHS prints of this made it difficult to view.
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** Gunplay is for Westerns (of which Raw Deal’s director, Anthony Mann, went on to direct several). Film noir prefers more baroque outbursts of malice, ideally illuminating, however briefly, the dark crevasses of human psychopathology. Crime kingpin Raymond Burr, shot from below to make his bulk loom even more frighteningly, nurses a fascination with fire. His chambers glow with candlelight, and he playfully singes the earlobes of his henchmen with a cigarette lighter. When, displeased with some news he’s just heard, a party girl splashes him with some of her drink, he reacts with lightning-quick instinct, hurling a chafing dish of flaming Cherries Jubilee into her face – and, not so incidentally, ours. (This, by the way, five full years before Fritz Lang arranged for Gloria Grahame to get a kisserful of scalding coffee in The Big Heat.) Of course, in accord with Chekhov’s dictum that a rifle produced in Act One must be discharged by Act Three, waiting in the wings there’s a conflagration with Burr’s name on it.
Raw Deal was the second of the collaborations between Mann and cinematographer John Alton, following T-Men. There’s scarcely a frame in the film that Alton has not composed, lighted and shot with offhand brilliance, yet the film flows along without the fussy, embalmed look that comes from self-conscious artistry or uncertainty about what to do with it.
A subdued voice-over opens the movie – not the stentorian narration with which so many noirs are saddled (including T-Men) but an almost interior monologue spoken by a woman, Claire Trevor. (Never has she been better – not in Murder, My Sweet, nor Born To Kill, nor Key Largo, which snagged her an Oscar.) A savvy moll of a certain age, she knows time is running out on her, hence her obsession with clocks: wristwatches, clock faces in towers, wall clocks (at one crucial point Alton encloses her anxious face within a dial). She’s been carrying a torch for Dennis O’Keefe, in stir after a double-cross by Burr. But a breakout has been arranged, with the codependent Trevor driving the getaway car, her purse holding two tickets to Panama on a freighter leaving in three days time.
But there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. First, a jam forces them to include in their getaway plans a young social worker (Marsha Hunt) who has taken a professional interest in O’Keefe (much to Trevor’s chagrin). Next, Burr has sent one of his deranged torpedoes (John Ireland) in pursuit. Third, O’Keefe is determined to have one last reckoning with Burr. Fourth, Ireland manages to abduct Hunt….
Half the movie takes place in San Francisco, mainly in fog-shrouded Corkscrew Alley. The great outdoors of the Northwest accounts for the rest – with a haunting nocturne in a pine forest, which city-gal Trevor remarks makes her feel `I dunno, both big and small at the same time.’ But indoors or out, darkness reigns (and, thanks to Alton, the film’s many and intricate shadows all but achieve co-starring stature). It’s hard-core noir, to be sure, sinister and brutal, but shot through with a redemptive touch of poetry.