This week in The Best of Film Noir we’re looking at Raw Deal, (no, not the movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger) the 1948 classic film noir starring Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor, Raymond Burr, and Marsha Hunt. This great and under-appreciated movie was directed by Anthony Mann, with cinematography by John Alton and screenplay by Leopold Atlas and John Higgins. When such talented film people get together to create a movie, you just know it’s got to be great.
The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero
Dennis O’Keefe plays Joe Sullivan, a guy who took the rap for his racketeering boss Rick (a wonderful, dark portrayal by Raymond Burr). Talk about the noir hero, Joe starts out on the wrong side of fate right from the start of Raw Deal. Rick plans for Joe to escape, but it’s an escape that’s never supposed to work. But with the help of his girlfriend Pat (Claire Trevor) and his case worker Ann (Marsha Hunt), Joe gets much further along in his escape than Rick thought he would. And as the story progresses, we wonder if our noir hero really is a cold man without a heart, and if he’ll end up with the femme fatale or not. And will he be doomed to fate as happens for most noir heroes?
The Best of Film Noir – The Femme Fatale
Claire Trevor does an admirable job as Joe’s girlfriend Pat. She’s the one who goes to the
prison and tells Joe that Rick has arranged for his escape. Poor Pat, she’s loyal but also keenly aware that someone else might have Joe’s heartstrings. She knows that she might be just the gal-pal (the not-so-feminine friend with the androgynous name, unlike Joe’s other interest). Pat does the initial voice-over (a twist on traditional noir) and we can sense her doom as she speaks…very powerful. Not the typical femme fatale, but a femme fatale nonetheless.
The Best of Film Noir – The Cinematography
I love a movie that paints such a vivid picture that you are completely enthralled. Much of the movie takes place in rural and suburban locations and John Alton does a superb job of taking ordinary settings and making them creepier than a haunted house on Halloween. The tension created is like nothing you’ll see in any horror film. Almost every scene, even those in broad daylight, will leave you on the edge of your seat. And the finale is one of the best in film noir…an absolute nail-biter. It takes true talent to achieve this so I doff my hat to Alton. In Girl and a Gun: The Complete Guide to Film Noir, David N. Meyer wrote: It’s the richest cinematography in noir outside of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.
The Best of Film Noir – The Script
As I’ve said before, any script that makes me drool with envy has got to be a great one, and Raw Deal is no exception. Atlas and Higgins came up with some great one-liners, the writing is tight, and the characters are as dark as any in film noir. It’s brilliant in that it takes standard film noir and turns it around (the girls duking it out over the guy). And those one-liners:
Joe (being visited by Ann): Next time you come up, don’t wear that perfume.
Ann: Why not?
Joe: It doesn’t help a guy’s good behavior.
And what about this:
Joe: You’re wonderful, baby. I don’t know what I’d do without you.
Pat: Remember to tell me later. With gestures.
Joe (referring to Ann): Keep your eve on Miss Law & Order here. She might go soprano on us.
You just gotta love writing like that, along with such a great noir plot…
The Best of Film Noir – Trivia
Did you know that Raw Deal was poorly reviewed at the time of its release? The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther panned the film, saying:
But this, of course, is a movie—and a pretty low-grade one, at that—in which sensations of fright and excitement are more diligently pursued than common sense. Except for the usual moral—to wit, that crime does not pay—the only thing proved by this picture is that you shouldn’t switch sweethearts in mid-lam.
Raw Deal certainly got a raw deal over the years, as it’s vastly overlooked by film noir lovers. But this is truly a masterpiece of the genre and well worth your time.
So grab your popcorn and soda, and sit down for a real treat…
If you love film noir, you should read This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, a Reader’s Favorite Finalist for mystery.
5 Star Review
There is little doubt that Renée Pawlish is a promising new voice to the comic murder/mystery genre. Quite noticeable…is Pawlish’s adept development of the plot coupled with her ability to contrive clear, concise and playful prose with almost perfect pacing.
Norman Goldman, Bookpleasures Publisher and Editor
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