Classic Film Review: Raw Deal (1948)

By Bill Boyle

It's late. I've been up against deadlines all week and haven't had a chance to watch or re-watch anything for review. So here's what's gonna happen: I'm gonna open this bottle of Jameson and put on Raw Deal and just write about it as I watch. 

Anthony Mann directed Raw Deal and John Alton shot it. Aside from that, I don't know shit about the picture. But that's all I need.  

I just punched it into Netflix streaming. It's 78 minutes long. Sounds fucking great to me.

Open on a state prison. Pat (Claire Trevor) talks over exterior shots of the joint. "This is the day," she says. She's going to visit the man she loves, Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe). She tells us he's breaking out that night. 

Cool, shaky POV shot as she enters the prison. She says: "I don't know which sound is louder: my heels or my heart." 

When she gets there, another woman is already in with Joe, Ann (Marsha Hunt), a social worker who is trying to reform him.  

There's an amazing sparkle in Pat's eye as she sits down with Joe and tells him the plan: Rick, the guy who Joe took a fall for, has set everything up. 

Next we're in the shadows on Corkscrew Alley, where Rick's office is. Rick (Raymond Burr) paces around. One of his stooges says he doesn't understand why Rick is springing Joe. "When he finds out you crossed him on the Spokane Mills job, he'll come gunning,"the stooge says.

From the other side of the room, Fantail (John Ireland) says: "I don't get it either, but I ain't asking questions."  

Rick insists that Joe will be cut down or caught while he's escaping. 

The break-out scene is all shadows and light. Pat's earrings sparkle as she waits for Joe in her car on the other side of the wall. He makes it, trailed by gunfire from the guards. 

Trying to stay ahead of the dragnet, Joe and Pat are aiming to rendezvous with Rick in Crescent City to collect the fifty grand Joe is owed; after that, they'll head to San Francisco and board a boat bound for Panama. But Pat's car quits on them. Turns out the guards shot a hole in the gas tank. They ditch it.

I'm not sure how they steal a taxi, but they have one in the next scene.

They go to Ann's. Pat waits outside. Joe comes in through Ann's window and kisses her awake. She wants him to turn himself in, saying she only came to visit him in prison because she read his records and saw that he was a good kid once. Joe takes Ann hostage, and the three of them split in her car. 

But now they're pinned in by the dragnet and the cops know what car they're in. They steal a station wagon at a gas station. The guy who they stole the station wagon from takes Ann's car and pursues them. He gets pulled over by the cops and hauled in, making it possible for Joe, Pat, and Ann to get through a roadblock.

Rick flips out when he finds out Joe's in the clear. He sends Fantail to Crescent City. Meanwhile, Joe, Pat, and Ann hide out in the hills at a tavern run by Joe's friend, Oscar. A murderer stumbles into Oscar's, the cops fast on his heels. When he's plugged by the cops, Ann uses it as a moment of instruction. "That could be you," she says to Joe.

In Crescent City Joe finds Rick's stooges and no money. Fantail puts a gun on him, but Joe slugs his way out. Pretty soon he's on the ropes again. Ann picks up a gun and steps in to help.  

There is, of course, a touch of soap opera here: Pat's love-dumb for Joe; Joe's crazy for Ann; Ann's falling for Joe. It's not the most interesting thing about the movie, but it's dealt with effectively in quick bursts and it never bogs down the main action.

Joe lets Ann go, thinking it's best for her, and he and Pat head to San Francisco. 

The picture rattles towards its climax. Pat insists it's a sucker's play to go after Rick; she just wants to board the boat with Joe and get the hell out of the country. Rick's stooges run into Ann and kidnap her. Burr is creepy as fuck as Rick, flicking on a lighter to threaten Ann (earlier he splashed a bowl of fire on some woman who accidentally sloshed a drink on his shoulder). 

A call comes into Joe and Pat's hotel room from one of Rick's stooges. Pat answers. The stooge tells her they have Ann. She keeps it quiet. 

Joe and Pat board the boat, and Joe tells Pat he wants to marry her. In a tense scene, Pat tries to decide if she should spill the news about Ann. With only five minutes until the boat shoves off, we see her face reflected in a clock (an amazing shot). Finally, she caves and tells Joe. He strikes out after Rick, ready to rescue the woman he really loves. 

Shadows and fog tangle in Corkscrew Alley as Joe lunges his way into Rick's joint. Dogs yelp. Guns pop in the night. 

When Joe finds Rick in his office, everything happens fast. The music rises. There's a showdown. There's fire.     
Okay, the whiskey's taking hold now. These shadows will be horses in my dreams. Raw Deal is not one of the best noirs I've ever seen, but it's a damn good movie to get drunk to. It's muscular, brutal, and economical. The dialogue's hard, even if it's not particularly memorable. And it's beautifully shot by Alton, full of deep darknesses and streaks of sinister light. 

Bill Boyle is from Brooklyn, NY and lives in Oxford, MS. His writing has appeared in The RumpusL.A. Review of BooksSalonVol. 1 BrooklynHobartOut of the GutterPlots With GunsThuglit, and other magazines and journals. He writes about '70s crime films at Goodbye Like A Bullet.