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?
Dennis O'Keefe ... Joseph Emmett (Joe) Sullivan
Claire Trevor ... Pat Cameron
Marsha Hunt ... Ann Martin
John Ireland ... Fantail
Raymond Burr ... Rick Coyle
Curt Conway ... Spider
Chili Williams ... Marcy
Regis Toomey ... Police Capt. Fields (as Richard Fraser)
Whit Bissell ... Murderer
Cliff Clark ... Gates
Enjoyable noir outing enlivened by a first rate cast, solid script and typically solid Alton camerawork. O'Keefe is right at home as Joe, the hotheaded lug with his own code and unlucky streak. Trevor is at her fatalistic best as the true blue moll who is meant for him but gets stepped over. Hunt is appealing and credible as the fresh-faced moralist who tries to change Joe but winds up changed, instead. Burr is an effective heavy, albeit a bit too wimpy at the end. Toomey, Bissell, and Ireland are all competent as well.
Alton uses multiple familiar Malibu locations to good advantage. The cinematography is excellent.
The script is particularly effective, building as Joe slowly discovers how he has been set up and deceived by basically everyone to some degree. Claire Trevor's struggle to come clean at the end is a moving and suspenseful section and the violent climax is curiously redeeming and satisfying. Noir fans should definitely give this one a look- not as famous as your typical Bogey or Mitchum entry, but just as iconic in its own way.
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.
"Raw Deal" was independent film made in 1948 by producer Edward Small. It is an excellent example of the "film-noire" genre that was popular in the forties and early 50s. It is filmed in black and white amidst the dark shadows and special lighting that characterized these films and in this case, most of the story takes place at night. It is skillfully directed by the soon to be famous Anthony Mann who went on to make a series of realistic and violent westerns with James Stewart in the fifties. Although the film runs a scant 78 minutes, it manages to tell its story and hold the viewer's interest throughout.
Dennis O'Keefe stars as a convict who's escape is engineered by the crime boss (Raymond Burr) who had set him up for the fall in the first place, with the hope that O'Keefe wiil be killed in the escape attempt. Of course, he does escape and sets out to seek his revenge. O'Keefe's anti-hero really has no redeeming qualities. At one point he is poised to shoot down a forest ranger in cold blood.
Claire Trevor is excellent as O'Keefe's long suffering moll who hopes to get him out of the country and eventually marry him. It is a role similar to the one for which she would win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "Key Largo" the same year. Marsha Scott is the third side to the triangle as the good girl who wants O'Keefe to give himself up.
Burr is particularly sadistic as the crime boss who fears for his life. At one point he throws a flaming pan onto a girl who has displeased him. John Ireland is along as Burr's hitman who gets into an exciting fight with O'Keefe in a darkened storeroom.
"Raw Deal" is a good movie that didn't get the praise it deserved.
This film has two elements that set it apart from lesser noir. One, the photography, which features excellent composition and lighting, without being too 'clever'. Second is the acting, which is very natural and transparent to the viewer involved in the story. The story itself, while not having many layers, hits upon many of the key issues of film noir, especially the struggle to be good in an amoral world.