Friday, March 6, 2015

Raw Deal (1948)

Raw Deal (1948)
seen online via YouTube

So I'm continuing with my Anthony Mann kick, and I've liked all of the movies of his I've seen so far, including the crime pic Raw Deal. It's as noir as films got back in the day: hardened jailbird escapes prison, and with the help of his girlfriend, sets out for San Francisco, but is forced to take his social worker along as an unwitting hostage. Meanwhile, the big boss man who betrayed him is scheming to bump him off before he reaches Frisco.

What do we know about Mann? He started off as an off-Broadway stage actor, set designer and production manager before heading out to Hollywood, doing casting and scouting for David O. Selznick. He was an assistant director at Paramount before becoming a director himself, turning out low-budget flicks like Raw Deal at smaller studios during the 40s. His collaborations with Jimmy Stewart in the 50s were what he became best known for, doing mostly Westerns, as well as a biopic of bandleader Glenn Miller. In the 60s, he switched to epic productions, making El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire, both with Sophia Loren.

Raw Deal is much better than it has a right to be. Dennis O'Keefe's jailbird character is the focus of the story, but Claire Trevor, his girlfriend, is the one who narrates. Her perspective adds an extra layer to the story: we see not just her devotion to O'Keefe, but her wariness of Marsha Hunt's character and her growing uncertainty about the success of their getaway. I've always liked Trevor. Seems like she's always the bad girl who's either saddled with the wrong man or stuck in the wrong circumstances. This was a pretty good year for her; Key Largo also came out in 1948. Who can forget the way Edward G. Robinson humiliates her by making her sing for a drink? At least John Wayne had sympathy for her in Stagecoach.

I was pleased to finally see Marsha Hunt in a movie. (Not sure I understand why the poster for Raw Deal turned her into the She-Hulk, though.) You may recall that I mentioned her in the post I did last year about the Hollywood Canteen. Her character starts off being sympathetic to O'Keefe because she knew his history and believes he's just a regular guy who made bad choices in life. Naturally, she's due for a rude awakening, but then Stockholm Syndrome sets in and, well... I wasn't entirely sold on that change in her character, but it didn't ruin the movie for me, given the ending. I liked her well enough. She bore a slight resemblance to Ida Lupino, I thought. She's still very much alive as of this writing. She'll be 98 in October, and although she may not be getting as much attention as Olivia DeHavilland, a documentary about her is in the works.

Raymond Burr as the big bad? Well... at least he gets to kill somebody
in a horrifying bit of improvisation.

Mann keeps the action moving well. It helps that the screenplay is tight while providing just enough nuance to the characters to keep us interested in what happens. Mann even finds room for some clever, bordering-on-artsy shots as well. It's easy to cite this as a prime example of film noir, and it is, but one must remember that nobody in the industry back then was aware of it as a genre. Still, there's a lot to like about this movie.


  1. I still don't (maybe "can't" or "won't") think of film-noir as a genre. To me it a style. My moto: "All film noir are crime drama, but not all crime drama are film noir." It's true. I'm going to create a family crest and have it translated into Latin.

    Mann is certainly a worthwhile director to explore. One Sunday afternoon, I slipped a movie in the DVD player, the hubby walked into the room and started to ask what I was watching when "directed by Anthony Mann" appeared on the screen. "Oh", he said, "your boyfriend!". Do you think I should watch less movies and pay more attention to my marriage! LOL

  2. It's funny you should say that about film noir: my pal Bibi just sent me a book about film noir. It's a big anthology filled with essays by a bunch of hoity-toity critic types exploring the themes and the style and some of the best known films noir. I've only just started it, but now you've got me thinking about film noir a little bit more. I'll get back to you on this when I've finished the book.

    If your man knows your film tastes that well, I'd say your marriage is AOK!


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