Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Raw Deal (1948) at UCLA

Tonight was yet another great night at UCLA's Anthony Mann Festival!

So far I've attended a majority of the screenings in this series, along with my friend Lindsay of Lindsay's Movie Musings. By the time the series concludes, I hope to have attended eight of the 11 evenings celebrating director Mann.

It's been a wonderful experience having the chance to delve deeply into Mann's career in such a compressed time frame, and my appreciation for Mann's work continues to grow.

Tonight was a Dennis O'Keefe double bill, leading off with T-MEN (1947) which I first reviewed in 2011.

Max Alvarez, author of the recent book THE CRIME FILMS OF ANTHONY MANN, was present this evening and provided an engaging introduction to each film. (I'm currently reading his book and will be reviewing it in the future.) He quoted Mann as saying T-MEN was what he considered his true "first film" in which he had control stucturing the story and style: "This was my first real break towards being able to make films the way I wanted."

I enjoyed revisiting the T-MEN, from its charmingly awkward introduction by a Treasury official to the many striking set pieces, shot by the great John Alton. It's a tough, gritty film with an interesting cast including Wallace Ford, Jane Randolph, and the wonderfully threatening Charles McGraw.

As much as I enjoy the "docu-noir" subgenre, the evening's highlight for me was RAW DEAL (1948), which I saw for the first time. Author Alvarez quoted a colleague as saying RAW DEAL is "where love goes to die," a wonderful description.

RAW DEAL is especially notable for Claire Trevor's hypnotic narration, which immediately pulls the viewing audience under its dreamlike spell, and the film doesn't let go until its dramatic conclusion 79 minutes later. RAW DEAL is prime noir which I'm certain to return to again.

The film begins with convict Joe Sullivan (O'Keefe) meeting two very different women during prison visiting hours: his lawyer's sweet assistant, Ann (Marsha Hunt), who encourages Joe to behave and work toward parole a couple years down the line, and his girlfriend Pat (Trevor), who brings word that a prison break has been engineered for Joe that very night. Mobster Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr), who owes Joe $50,000 for taking the prison rap for him, has arranged to leave some doors open, and sure enough, Joe flees prison that night with Pat driving the getaway car.

The bullet-riddled gas tank drains, leading Joe and Pat to hijack a taxicab and then kidnap Ann and her car. They flee toward a meeting where Rick is supposed to give Joe his $50,000, after which Joe and Pat will flee the country.

Any viewer who thinks Burr's Rick actually intends to give Joe his money hasn't seen enough film noir! To make things even more interesting, Rick is something of a pyromaniac, and his girlfriend (Chili Williams) pays the price for that in a stunning scene.

Joe feels loyalty toward Pat, who knew him in the old neighborhood and broke him out, but it becomes increasingly apparent that the woman he truly loves is Ann, who's attracted to Joe even while she's angered by what he's become and by his refusal to get his life back on track.

The film moves inexorably towards its final confrontations between Joe, the jealous Pat, and the murderous, flame-obsessed Rick.

This is simply a terrific film, with fine work by the entire cast, stylish direction by Mann, and beautiful photography once more by John Alton.

Alvarez describes Trevor as a "magnetic screen presence," and her narration, with some of the phrases repeated for effect ("This is the day...this is the day...") does much to create the atmosphere in a film which Alvarez calls "harshly poetic." That said, the film wouldn't work as well as it does without the strong contributions of everyone involved. O'Keefe manages to make his antihero sympathetic, and Hunt is appealing as a woman who's got guts underneath the ladylike exterior. The scene where she shoots Rick's henchman (John Ireland) is one of the most dramatic in the picture.

John Alton once more creates memorable visual images; I think the thing that struck me most wasn't his famed use of shadows, but the way Pat and Ann's earrings sparkle! The women's gleaming earrings was an unusual and visually interesting touch repeated throughout the film.

RAW DEAL was written by Leopold Atlas and John C. Higgins, loosely inspired by a story by Arnold Armstrong and Audrey Ashley. Alvarez described the original treatment as "virtually unreadable," and his description of the story, which included a gang of Santa Claus Bandits, was quite amusing. Fortunately for us, what ended up on the screen was a very interesting and rather different film noir meets love triangle.

For more on the film, visit "The Women of RAW DEAL," written by Anne M. Hockens for the Film Noir Foundation. There's also a very interesting post on the movie's locations by Robby at Dear Old Hollywood.

As a side note, I strongly suspect the hotel room and bathroom set seen near the end of RAW DEAL was also used in T-MEN. I'll have to put them both on TV at some point and compare.

RAW DEAL is available on DVD and VHS.

RAW DEAL can be streamed from Amazon Instant Video.

Earlier films seen in this series: DR. BROADWAY (1942), which was paired with the previously reviewed TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945); THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955), shown with the previously reviewed STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944); THE NAKED SPUR (1953), shown with the previously reviewed HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948); THE LAST FRONTIER (1955), seen with the previously reviewed STRANGE IMPERSONATION (1947); and RAILROADED! (1947), shown with the previously seen DESPERATE (1947).

October 2017 Update: RAW DEAL is being reissued on DVD and Blu-ray by ClassicFlix, with many interesting extras.


Blogger Jerry E said...

A really great film noir this! Dennis O'Keefe was previously known more for comedy but this film amply demonstrates what happens when a great director steers an actor towards a really fine (and appropriate) performance. One of my favourite noir movies.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your feedback, Jerry. I enjoyed this so much! It really was a change of pace for O'Keefe given his early "B" films and lighter work. I enjoy his films such as this, WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948), and THE FAKE (1953).

Best wishes,

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Matthew W said...

Truly an underrated gem....many director's touches...Claire Trevor's long close-up at the the dark---was my favorite scene, in a movie of great scenes, Claire Trevor was powerful in here, Academy Award powerful..

7:12 PM  

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