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Raw Deal (1948)
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by Jack Sommersby

"Nimble Noir"
3 stars

While lacking the compression and poetic beauty of some of the crime films of its time, it carries you along well enough.

If you're up for a film-noir affixing the oft-titled Murphy's Law (that if anything can possibly go wrong it will) onto its criminal of a lead character as he dodges both cops and bad guys throughout, and thus not requiring the utmost of common sense in your cinematic viewing, you could do worse than Raw Deal. It's not anything dynamic or exciting, and I certainly hope the filmmakers intended all this outlandishness, but it's perfectly watchable stuff for a rainy Saturday afternoon. Dennis O'Keefe stars as Joe Sullivan, a convict doing time for a crime committed by a mob boss that he took the rap for. On a single day he's visited by his trial attorney's assistant, Ann (Marsha Hunt), who took an interest in his case and guesses that he's got a minimum of three years before parole, and a few minutes later by his girlfriend, Pat (Claire Trevor), who surprises him with the news that his boss has arranged a jail-break for him that will occur late that night -- he's been promised fifty-thousand dollars and safe berth on a ship heading to South America. We then switch to the mob boss' office, where we learn that, concerned that Joe might try to deal his way out with the district attorney, the boss, Rick (Raymond Burr), is counting on Joe getting killed either by the guards during the escape or the cops during the ensuing manhunt. With Pat waiting with a car on the street, Joe, dodging a barrage of bullets from the guards once the alert siren has sounded, manages to escape, and the two are off and running. (A major logic loophole here: Since Rick has obviously bought off a guard, why didn't he have Joe shot by that very same guard during the escape, or arranged his murder while he was still inside?) They don't get too far, however, for the car has run out of gas because the tank had been penetrated by gunfire; they've only got three days to collect the money and get on the ship. They steal a car, then Joe locates Ann's home address; Ann allows him in but persuades him to turn himself into the police; he refuses. He intends for him and Pat to lay low there for a bit, but Ann tries sneaking a call to the police from the next room; Joe barges in and grabs the receiver, but it's too late -- the police have been alerted and are on their way. Coming up with the bright idea that three people in a car won't fit the one-man/one-woman description the police have, he forces Ann to come along with them. And from here there are even more mishaps -- one is tempted to label them "a comedy of errors" -- along the way.

Raw Deal is absurdly plotted, and for a while you're tempted to hold this against it. But then, what would be the point of the film where the lead character gets away squeaky-clean without any conflicts that he has to outsmart and fight his way out of? In a neat bit, Joe steals a car from a gas station knowing the owner will be in hot pursuit in the car they left behind (the car they've learned from a radio announcement the police have a description of), so when they pass a couple of motorcycle cops, it's the owner, not Joe and the women, who are pulled over. Other than that, Joe can't catch a break. Getting the car off the street for a while, they take refuge in the woods at night, and it's not long before a park ranger on horseback comes across them (Ann talks their way out of it fearing Joe will shoot him). A couple of hours later, they make it to a past associate of Joe's who has a house in the country, but before they can take off in the man's spare car, a crazed guy who's recently shot his wife bangs on the door to be let in with a police posse coming up the rear. And so on. The director, Anthony Mann, keeps things moving amiably along, and though he indulges in some rather self-consciously stylish shots, which are semi-distracting because they don't serve any real visual purpose, his framing is expressive enough as far as these things go. (He could've lost the many low-angle shots of Burr, though. The actor's considerable physical poundage is accentuated to the point where he comes off more buffoonish than menacing.) The dialogue is functional, though it'll sometimes overstate the obvious and occasionally strain to be "colorfully" hard-boiled ("Keep your eye on Ms. Law & Order here. She might go soprano on us"). But what's with the eerie Twilight Zone-like music score laid over Pat's voice-over narration? (You keep expecting Bela Lugosi to make an appearance.) As the anti-hero susceptible to pangs of conscience, O'Keefe doesn't have the animal magnetism the role calls for (we don't see why the two women find him irresistible), but he's got guts and conveys internal tension. Trevor, in a rather one-note role, is adequate. Hunt, whose character goes through several emotional transitions, is dexterously convincing. But Burr, failing at emanating much in the way of intimidating force, is otiose. Action sequences are finely staged without being too slick or too ragged, even though there�s little accepting that during the grand finale Joe could outshoot so many armed goons when he's on the enemy's home-court advantage. Overall, a slight recommendation for Raw Deal just as long as one doesn't bring much in the way of scrutiny to the party.

As for the DVD, the video transfer is adequate, nothing more. No special features.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23680&reviewer=327
originally posted: 04/14/12 10:04:07
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  26-May-1948 (NR)
  DVD: 18-Oct-2005



Directed by
  Anthony Mann

Written by
  Leopold Atlas
  John C. Higgins

  Dennis O'Keefe
  Claire Trevor
  Marsha Hunt
  Raymond Burr
  John Ireland

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