Raw Deal is an unheralded masterpiece because it is not only killer noir but much, much more. It is a film of extreme visceral toughness. This quality feeds and strengthens an unexpected Romantic strand which together fuse into the extraordinary emotional resonance it packs. Much of this is by design.
Several fundamental noir /’B’ movie tropes are inverted, turning their conventional associations inside out. First of these is using a female voiceover narration, in the sublimely world-weary Claire Trevor. No stranger to noir roles, she invested each of hers with a distinct artistry, setting this one apart from the brittle femme fatale of Born To Kill (‘47) just as strongly as from Key Largo, the Oscar-winning role for which she is best remembered.
A classic Romantic triangle suffuses the thriller plot of Raw Deal but in a further inversion, the duality of good/evil, straight life and underworld are embodied not in the usual cuckolded husband and noir anti-hero but in the two women whose favour our man passes between. This renders the man, Mann/Alton regular Dennis O’Keefe as escaped con Joe, a quasi- homme fatale .
But Joe is more than a mere 1940s chick magnet. He has his own emotional struggle of equally titanic proportions between polarities of – you guessed it – good/evil, that are represented by the two women - Ann (the righteous, uptight social worker from white-picket-fence- land) and Trevor’s gangland moll Pat, who waited stoically while he was inside and maintains her accommodating posture after they’re on the run.