(No not the Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick from the ’80s) Raw Deal is a pretty underrated gem of the classic noir cycle. It was made the same year as T-Men with many of the same principal talents. While that film had a social realism thing going on, Raw Deal goes right for the hypothetical throat. It’s a tale of betrayal amongst a group of crooks and the two women who strive for the love of Joe (Dennis O’Keefe). On the surface it reads like a standard revenge story, but thanks to director Anthony Mann and DP John Alton, Raw Deal plunges into a hallucinatory realm of violence and cynicism that’s as disenchanted as the hardest noirs oughta be.
I generally dislike narration in my noir, but Raw Deal subverts the traditional path by presenting a female narrator: Pat, one of Joe’s love interests played by the sultry Claire Trevor (Born to Kill). Her lines are like poetry too, which adds to the dreamlike vibe of the film. Through her narration we learn that she’s helping Joe bust outta prison. He took a beef for his racketeer boss Rick (a chilling Raymond Burr), now he wants out so he can collect his promised $50K and start his life over again in Central America. But Rick plans on killing him at the meet – leaving no loose end dangling.
In the mix is Ann (Marsha Hunt), a green legal assistant who takes a liking to Joe. The interesting love triangle make Joe the femme fatale (much like Glenn Ford was in The Big Heat a few years later). Her and Pat are polar opposites: Pat is the world-weary moll while Ann is the “gee-whiz” junior lawyer. The latter is Joe’s pathway to a straight life, but he can’t break free from the clutches of his underworld dame Pat, who has a startling change of heart during the film’s climactic final minutes.
The love triangle is pushed aside near the end so Joe can tango with Rick, who is one sadistic fucker. The final rumble between these two doomed souls takes place amidst a raging fire – not so subtle overtones of the pits of hell. Alton’s cinematography is stunning at times and during the fiery climax, you guys, this shit looks like a horror movie. It’s a throwdown of epic rage and violence (1940s “violence”, of course, which amounts to throwing blows). The expressionistic visuals persist throughout the film making every apartment, prison, and exterior look like a nightmare. Alton also DP’ed He Walked By Night, so the cat obviously has a knack for shooting bold climaxes.
Raw Deal should be included in dialogues about classic noir – it’s weird that it’s been brushed into the B-noir doldrums. It’s got sharp style out the ass, not one but two terrific female leads, and a climax that will make you climax. It’s streaming right now on Netflix so pop a squat and get your eyeballs beat up.