RAW DEAL: Ménage à noir

Marsha Hunt, Claire Trevor and Dennis O'Keefe in RAW DEAL
Marsha Hunt, Claire Trevor and Dennis O’Keefe in RAW DEAL

Raw Deal (1948) offers some of the best dialogue in all of film noir, a love triangle and the superb cinematography of John Alton.

A con (Dennis O’Keefe) escapes from prison and goes on the run with his girlfriend (Claire Trevor) and a hostage, his prison social worker (Marsha Hunt).  None of them know that the jailbreak had been engineered by the convict’s ruthless partner (Raymond Burr), who was expecting that he would be killed in the attempt.  On the desperate road trip, attractions blossom, and the Bad Girl and the Good Girl begin to share the Good/Bad Guy.

The trio is safely holed up in a secluded hideout “two hours out of Crescent City”, when a murderer stumbles into their hideout, dragging along a massive manhunt with him.  Only a noir protagonist can have that kind of bad luck.

Of course, if the cops don’t get O’Keefe, then Burr must.  It’s challenging to pick out one Raymond Burr role as the nastiest, but here he throws fire on a woman who accidentally spilled her drink on him – that’s gotta count for something.

Along with Burr, we have noir veterans Regis Toomey in his usual cop role, John Ireland as a goon and Whit Bissell eschewing his normally controlled and intelligent character to play the mouth-foaming murderer.  Claire Trevor was known as The Queen of Noir for roles like this – a cheap dame who nonetheless gets pathetically less than she deserves.

Raw Deal is filled with great lines: “As they say, life begins with fifty Gs”.  But it’s the underused Marcia Hunt who steals the picture by nailing some of the best noir monologues:

 “Oh, Joe, that’s a sucker play.”

“I suppose I should feel some kind of victory but I don’t . I feel sorry for her, passing like this.  She, too, is a dame on love with Joe. She’s lost, and I’ve been behind that eight ball too often myself.”

“You’ve never thought I had to fight.  I got an education, sure. I suppose that means I was born with a silver spoon. My father was a schoolteacher. He died in the War of the Depression. Only he didn’t get any medals or any bands or any bonus.  It’s the daily fight.  Everyone has to get food and an education, to land a job and to keep it.  And some self-respect. Safe. I never asked for anything safe.  All I want is a little decency, that’s all.”

Raw Deal was directed by the young Anthony Mann and fits in the middle of Man’s series of B-movie noirs, just two years before Winchester ’73 launched his famed string of “psychological Westerns”.  John Alton was the cinematographer for Mann’s noirs – for many more B-noirs, too.  Alton made effective use of ground level shots to make Burr seem even more menacing.  And there’s an especially wonderfully photographed scene where Ireland is about to dispatch O’Keefe with a rod.  Good stuff.

Raw Deal plays occasionally on Turner Classic Movies and is available streaming from Netflix Instant and Amazon Instant Video (free with Amazon Prime).

Raymond Burr, John Ireland and Marsha Hunt in RAW DEAL
Raymond Burr, John Ireland and Marsha Hunt in RAW DEAL
Claire Trevor in RAW DEAL
Claire Trevor in RAW DEAL

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