Raw Deal (1948)

Raw Deal is directed by Anthony Mann and adapted by Leopold Atlas & John C. Higgins from a suggested story by Arnold B. Armstrong & Audrey Ashley. It stars Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt, John Ireland & Raymond Burr. Paul Sawtell scores the music and John Alton is the cinematographer.

Convict Joe Sullivan (O’Keefe), incarcerated after taking a fall, breaks out of jail with the help of his girl, Pat Cameron (Trevor). But something is amiss, brutish mobster Rick Coyle (Burr) is influencing proceedings behind the scenes, he needs to because he owes Joe big time. Kidnapping Joe’s social worker, Ann Martin (Hunt), Joe & Pat hit the road, it’s a road that will lead to desperate consequences for many.

A raw fatalistic film noir that sees the ace pairing of director Mann and photographer Alton. They, along with O’Keefe, had made T-Men the year previously, itself a tough piece of film making. Raw Deal is the lesser known movie of the two, but that’s not in any way indicative of the quality of Raw Deal, for it’s most assuredly the real deal for sure. What unfolds over the 80 minutes running time is a plot full of characters destined for disappointments or even worse; rarely has the title for a film been as apt as it is here! Mann & Alton move the tight screenplay thru a shadowy world of half-lit images and high contrast brutality. Jittery cameras are supplemented by unbalanced angles, which in turn are boosted by Sawtell’s music compositions. One of the best decisions made by Mann and Sawtell is that of the narration by Trevor, in itself unusual for a woman of noir to narrate, it’s sorrowful and mournful in tone anyway, but with Sawtell scoring it with the theremin it plays out as part of a nightmarish dream-state.

O’Keefe was not the leading man type, but that’s perfect for this film, he offers a credibility to a man whose life has taken a down turn, where his only comfort is being a thorn between two roses, but with that comes more problems as he seeks to only breathe the fresh air of freedom. Trevor (loyal and knowing moll) and Hunt (dainty with whiffs of goodness seeping from every pore) play off each other very well, offering up a sort of devil and angel on Joe’s shoulders motif. Burr is shot from the waist up, giving his character even more emphasise as a hulking, sadistic brute, and rounding out the good performances is Ireland as a sly hit-man type who revels in getting a rise out of his paymaster. But no doubt about it, the real star of the show is Alton’s photography, itself the critical character. Mann’s film would have been great and got through on his direction and script anyway, but with Alton’s camera it ends up being essential for the film noir faithful.

From the opening, where the credits show up on the background of prison bar shadows, to the no cop out-classic noir-ending, Raw Deal hits the mark. A film that’s bleak and at times brutal, yet rich in emotional depth. A must see for like minded cinephiles.