Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Thrills, Chills, & Spills: RAW DEAL

by JB
Not the Raw Deal with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is the Raw Deal with Dennis O’Keefe, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of 1948.

Classic Flix is quickly becoming my favorite video label. Specializing in film noir, the company released stunning, features-laden Blu-ray editions of T-Men and He Walked By Night in 2017. This year, the Classic Flixsters have released an equally stunning restoration of director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton’s second collaboration, Raw Deal.
Raw Deal was the team’s follow-up to T-Men, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. Both films are notable for Alton’s groundbreaking images, but I noticed an interesting difference between the cinematography in the two films. There are many striking shots in T-Men, but they can pull you out of the narrative; they’re so evocative or beautiful or unique that they call attention to themselves as created images. Yet T-Men’s charms do not lie in its narrative, so being reminded that we are watching a movie is not a problem. The stunning cinematography props up fairly standard material.

The narrative of Raw Deal, on the other hand, needs no cinematographic crutch. The film is still beautiful to look at, with stunning lens work and shot compositions—but the team of Mann and Alton knew enough to temper their “gee whiz” proclivities to better serve one of the most interesting film noir plots ever filmed.
The Plot in Brief: Convict Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe) plans to break out of prison with the help of mob boss Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr) and long-suffering girlfriend Pat Regan (Claire Trevor). Secretly, Coyle is hoping that Sullivan will be killed trying to escape, since he wants to get out of paying Sullivan a promised $50,000. Coyle is a bastard.

Sullivan escapes alive, but he and Regan need some wheels—so they kidnap Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt), a legal secretary who had pitied Sullivan and his hardscrabble childhood and had tried to get him a parole. As the uneasy threesome of Sullivan, Regan, and Martin travel south to meet up with Coyle, romantic intrigue rears its ugly head. Regan is insanely jealous of Martin. Martin starts to like being a bad girl. And what is with Coyle’s obsession with fire and burning things?
What makes Raw Deal one of the most fascinating film noirs is its exploration of female archetypes in noir. The film is narrated by a woman, a rarity in film noir. Both Claire Trevor (who had just won an Oscar for Key Largo) and Marsha Hunt create such interesting, specific characters that Dennis O’Keefe starts to look like a boring lummox in comparison. The women’s stories are so compelling that one almost wishes that even villain Coyle was played by a woman.

Spoiler Alert: Given that the film was made in the late 1940s, when the Production Code was still in effect, it is immensely satisfying to see how the film bends over backwards to give us both 1) the “good girl” shooting someone and LIKING IT and 2) an artfully contrived plot point that lets her continue being the “good girl.” The flips and twists and pirouettes that many film noirs perform in order to “skate around” the corners of the Production Code is often thrilling.

Screenwriter John C. Higgins worked on the script for both T-Men (suggested by a story by Virginia Kellogg) and Raw Deal (with Leopold Atlas.) The two films seem to be having a competition for the most vivid and horrible death scene. I think it’s a tie, but you can take your pick: Death by parboiling in a locked steam room in T-Men, or death by dessert in Raw Deal, as Raymond Burr throws flaming Cherries Jubilee in his girlfriend’s face. Raw Deal probably wins this grim sweepstakes because it also features a bad guy impaled on the antlers of a stuffed deer.

I like violent crime films with imagination!
I don’t mean to brag, but I am becoming adept at identifying supporting performers by their voices alone. In Raw Deal, I recognized Police Captain Fields, Regis Toomey, as Uncle Arvide Abernathy in Guys and Dolls; Police Office Ray Teal as both juror Jesse Dunlop in Inherit The Wind and Judge Curtis Ives in Judgment at Nuremberg; and criminal taxidermist Grimshaw, Tom Fadden, as the bridge keeper who witnesses the first meeting between George Bailey and Angel Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life. This is the fun game I will play in my old age, when watching too many movies has rendered me blind.

Listen—you need to see Raw Deal. Specifically, you need to see Classic Flix’s new restoration of Raw Deal, which also features an engaging audio commentary with film historian Jeremy Arnold; two featurettes (“Deadly is the Male: The Making of Raw Deal” and “Dennis O'Keefe: An Extraordinary Ordinary Guy,” with the actor’s son, Jim O'Keefe); a restoration demonstration; an image gallery; and other film noir trailers.

In closing, I could say something like, “Buy this disc; you won’t get a RAW DEAL,” but that’s such a lame, jokey closer that I would be afraid that one of my readers might fling flaming Cherries Jubilee in my face. How about this: “See Raw Deal, you won’t get (Raymond) BURR-NED! It’s a noir that will (Dennis O’) KEEFE you coming back for more!” Wait… PUT DOWN THAT SAUTEE PAN!

Ouch and yum.
Official Raw Deal Thrill-O-Meter Reading: 83.33%

Thrills: 90%
(It offers terrific suspense and that rare feeling that we really don’t know where this story is going.)

Chills: 70%
(Raymond Burr’s pyro-maniacal psychotic is truly creepy.)

Spills: 90%
(Some great car stunts and fistfights provide exciting noir action.)


  1. the covers for Noir are always super good. i wish i had posters for most of the ones i saw.

    JB, do you have a favorite Noir movie? i'll accept up to 3 favorites :)

  2. Touch of Evil
    Sweet Smel of Success
    The Killing

  3. Okay fine, but can you review the Ah-nuld remake now? Porfavor?

  4. Patrick did six years ago: http://www.fthismovie.net/2012/02/heavy-action-tango-cash-raw-deal.html

  5. Is it just me or is that a tiny head on some massive shoulders?

  6. Which picture are you referring to? I’m hoping it’s the last one of Raymond Burr?

    1. Yeah, the last one. Looking at other photos of him, he just happens to be a broad-shouldered guy. Just looked weird in that pic to me.