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Raw Deal

A Forty's noir

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A tough-minded, classic noir made up of wrong choices and despair

  • Feb 24, 2011
  • by
Rating:
+3
"We drove all night through the quiet hills," Pat Cameron tells us in Raw Deal. "Joe hadn't said a word. I knew or thought I knew what was going on inside him. She was getting under his skin. Once I tried to talk to him but he told me to shut up. Deep down I guess I have no real beef about what I know is happening. Watching him, one thing keeps ringing inside of me. He's never really told me he loved me."
 
Pat Cameron (Claire Trevor) has just helped Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe) break out of the California State Penitentiary. They're on the road to the small coastal town of Crescent City where Sullivan will pick up $50,000 from Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr), a gangster who likes hurting people and playing with fire. The 50 grand is Sullivan's cut from a robbery where he took the fall for Coyle. What he doesn't know is that Coyle has no intention of giving Sullivan a dime, only a bullet in the stomach.
 
Along the way and much to Pat's unease, Sullivan grabbed Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt), a young woman who worked on his legal case, from her apartment. As the hours wear on, Sullivan is drawn to Martin. Pat, who has without reservation given her love to Sullivan, can only watch. Sullivan is a hard case, but shows signs of the decent kid he once was. When he discovers that Coyle has sent a henchman, Fantail (John Ireland), to Crescent City to kill him, he resolves to take out Coyle whatever the cost. Unknown to him, however, Coyle has managed to capture Ann. With a phone call intended for Joe and a lie, Pat finds herself in a position to see her and Joe escape on a ship leaving the U.S. She also begins to recognize how much Joe is willing to sacrifice for herself and for Ann.
 
They're in their ship's cabin, and Joe has said he wants Pat and him to get married. He's talking on and on about how maybe they'll be able to find a decent life for themselves. "Why didn't he stop talking," Pat says to herself. "He was saying everything I'd ever wanted to hear all my life. The lyrics were his all right, but the music was Ann's...Ann's. Suddenly, I saw that every time he kissed me he'd be kissing Ann. Every time he held me, danced with me, spoke to me, ate, drank, played, sang, it would be Ann...Ann." Pat tells him that Coyle has Ann. He leaves the ship to save her. The ending is brutal and inevitable. No one wins.
 
Raw Deal is a solid Forties noir with several unusual qualities. The story is told from Pat Cameron's point of view, in a present-tense narration. Claire Trevor does a wonderful job of tense, sad understatement as she tells us the story. The plot also sets up an unusual triangle with O'Keefe, Trevor and Hunt. All three of them, regardless of their backgrounds, are victims of circumstances they can't control. This is not exactly a three-way love story, but a story of different kinds of need played out by the three. Anthony Mann's direction features great scenes of foggy highways, darkened motels, low camera angles and deep shadows. The fight pitting O'Keefe against Ireland and a third guy, with Hunt intervening with a revolver, in a darkened fish and taxidermy shop is a stand out. Trevor, during her narration, is given a haunting music theme which sounds like it was played on a theremin. It gives the story a sad, unreal, forbidding feel.
 
All the actors do fine jobs. Raymond Burr could create strong, creepy villains. He has a nice scene when he throws a flaming flambé dish onto his girlfriend. John Ireland is very good as a sardonic henchman who doesn't mind killing Sullivan or taunting Coyle. Claire Trevor, very much doing the needy, almost whiny woman you know isn't going to win anything, does an especially fine job with the narration. In many ways, Raw Deal is as much Pat's story as it is Joe's.
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Sad, huh? Wait ‘til you heat Pat’s real story.
 
Pat Cameron (Claire Trevor) in Raw Deal:

Maybe this is Joe’s story but it sure is Pat’s. Joe Sullivan was a good kid who grew up fast and tough. Pat Cameron grew up along side of him. I knew them both a little. She loved Joe like no dame should love a guy. When he started in with penny-ante break-ins, she’d cover for him. If he needed an alibi, Pat gave it. She didn’t like it when Joe got mixed up with Rick Coyle. She new that sleazy gambler was trouble even if Joe didn’t. When Joe agreed to take the rap for a big heist Coyle masterminded, for once in her life she tried to talk him out of it. It’ll be okay, Joe told her. Rick will get me out early and I’ll have half the take. Only it didn’t work out that way. Oh, Coyle said he was trying, but somehow his lawyers never came through. And Pat knew Joe was talking with that social worker, Ann Martin.
 
When Joe finally decided to break out, Pat was there for him with a car, clothes, some money. They were going to take a freighter to South America right after Joe picked up his cut from Coyle. Didn’t work out that way. Joe makes Pat drive to Ann’s apartment and he grabs her, as a hostage he said. And when Coyle decides to keep all the money and send Fantail to take Joe out, Joe gets mad. Pat told me once, much later, that she should never have told Joe that Coyle had taken Ann and was waiting for him. She should have kept that a secret. Well, it’s all in the past now. Joe was always Joe. Not smart enough, really. And not tough enough, even though he took Fantail out. He was one of those losers who sometimes try to do the right thing. Then he screws up because he can't see he's got a good thing right in front of him.
 
Whenever I see Pat I slip her a few bucks, just to help her out. There's a bar she likes not far from where she lives. They know her there. They don’t give her any grief. She can’t forget Joe. Even when she takes a customer back to her place, she’s thinking of Joe. 
A tough-minded, classic noir made up of wrong choices and despair A tough-minded, classic noir made up of wrong choices and despair A tough-minded, classic noir made up of wrong choices and despair

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About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #33
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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[from www.crimeculture.com]

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 ...
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