Raw Deal (1948)

Raw Deal (1948) is a classic of on the lam noir film-making starring Dennis O'Keefe, Claire Trevor and Marsha Hunt.

Prison convict Joe Sullivan has not only taken the fall for an unspecified crime, but he sports the classic film noir overcoat in this film, and runs desperately from hideout to hideout, trekking down the West Coast of the USA on a collision course with revenge.

Best of all, his run is made with two women at his side, Pat and Ann, dames established from the off as the good and bad side of femininity, both of whom are of course sweet on him, in their separate ways.

Pat is the more traditional gangster's moll, who helps Joe with the breakout, and is as tough as the leather which this film noir is made from; contrasted with Ann, the good gal who is her foil and love rival, and is actually Joe's case-worker, who has against her own will fallen for the convict.

Film noir usually carries with it some kind of morality at heart, beneath the hats, coats, fist-fights, rode, cigarettes and sadism, and the two women in Raw Deal indicate to the audience what kind of man Joe really is.

Starry-eyed with tears — Marsha Hunt in Raw Deal (1948)

Dennis O'Keefe — a raw deal for the ladies in Raw Deal (1948)

Sadism, captivity, revenge, malice, fear, paranoia and violence, and that is just the men.

Is Joe the bad guy we all fear him to be, and will he be drawn to the dark side by falling back in with his girl Pat (Claire Trevor), or will his heart show moral courage by turning to the good path in life, at the end of which is his legal caseworker and new romance, Ann, played by Marsha Hunt?

Into Darkness — classic film noir in
Raw Deal (1948)

Anthony Mann, who is known for creating a good many of our favourite rough and tough film noirs, such as T-Men (1947), Side Street (1950) and Border Incident (1949), seems to let go of on-screen morality every few minutes, creating a violent universe of free-for-all sadism and greed, all of which wraps up quite morally at the conclusion. It's this liberty that gave film noir its hard chops, and raises stories like this above romance, crime, thriller and other types of genre story-telling.  

Romance in film noir — later these two will be in love
Dennis O'Keefe and Marsha Hunt in Raw Deal (1948)

The black and white of classic film noir rarely seemed so clear-cut as it does in Raw Deal (1948). Brutish and at times nasty, and of course raw from head to foot, Raw Deal is not a clever story of twists and turns with surprises and is not even heavy on the snappy film noir dialogue. Instead Raw Deal, film noir on the lam, bludgeons its way to its target, like its hero, who by force of will pushes onward through a series of nearly fatal challenges, until he captures his quarry and exacts his revenge.

West coast woodlands at night are brilliantly noir
Raw Deal (1948)

The settings for this brutish and raw pursuit are however exceptionally interesting, a kind of west coast travelogue of noir, commencing behind bars and working its way through some city streets, through some deadlands into the forests of California, before wending its way down to the beaches of the sunny sea-coast, where the tones of love begin to sing too loud for hero Joe Sullivan.

Dennis O'Keefe in Raw Deal (1948)

Interestingly Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe) is not trying to clear his name in Raw Deal. His is simply a chase for life, a race against time and a race against both the cops and the hoods who are simultaneously after him. Innocence is relative —  and that is classic noir, baby.

While evading the police, Joe and his two women friends hole up at the cabin of an old friend, an old-timer type who fixes him up with a new jalopy, and some brief respite. 

Here, in a curious set of side events, another criminal on the run turns up, only to be cornered and captured and killed.

Raymond Burr in Raw Deal (1948)

John Ireland in Raw Deal (1948)

The action is clipped and the delivery cutting, and the feelings are rough and raw. On top of that, Raw Deal may be the only film noir which is delivered with a female voiceover, which frames the oddity of the love triangle. The love interest is not of interest to Dennis O'Keefe's character Joe Sullivan, however, not until much later. He is all about surviving, and quiet right too. It's intense how close he comes to capture on many occasions.

Adventure on the lam in Raw Deal (1948)

Pat's narration is the voiceover which both opens and closes Raw Deal (1948), and on the surface it is a strange choice, not only to have the female voiceover, but to have the bad girl narrate. Perhaps it is because Pat, the narrator, is going to lose? 

Classic Film Noir — Raw Deal (1948)

Either way, it is the persistence of that narration informs the tone of Raw Deal, and suggest that Pat is actually the lead, an idea validated best by her increasing paranoia that she may be losing Joe to Ann. 

Muted humour turns to violence in film noir classic
Raw Deal (1948)

The mix grows fatter as the pace increases and at one point Ann, after much panicked soul-searching, shoots a man attacking Joe, proving to Joe, herself and most importantly the audience, that she has the wicked capacity to kill that she fears in Joe, discovering her own inner villain. This is certainly a key moment in noir, this revelation that there's a killer within, and that the potential is always there. 

The darkness which Raw Deal visits upon the viewer is rarely matched in the 1940s. Whether it's the forests of the west coast, or the dingy roadhouse or the ship Joe Sullivan briefly boards to escape, all is dark around him and his girls.

Raymond Burr is the sadistic crime boss Rick Coyle towards whom Joe is running. Rick has helped Joe escape because he is sure that Joe will be killed in the process, but of course Joe makes it, and so Rick's paranoia increases as the movie's pace rises, and as Joe gets closer.

Rick is also something of a psychopath, first indicated by the fact that he rejects female advances in favour of his card game or similar caper, and he has a penchant for fire, like all good child psychos. The fire motif in Raw Deal indicates Rick's superlative and unnecessary cruelty, especially when he flings a flambee over a woman trying to get his attention.

West coast highway in Raw Deal (1948)

Rick, when he captures Ann, also indicates that he likes to use fore as a method of torture, simply by flicking on his cigarette lighter.  

Towering villainy —  Raymond Burr in Raw Deal (1948)

To cap this demented and dark chase to the death, there is of course a spadeful of snappy film noir style dialogue. May examples spring to mind:

Joe Sullivan: What do you know about anything? You probably had your bread buttered on both sides since the day you were born. Safe. Safe on first, second, third, and home.

Ann Martin: That's what you think? Just because I own a car and a tailored suit and my nails are clean, you think I've never had to fight? I got an education, sure. I suppose that means I was born with a silver spoon, doesn't it? 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. He left three children. You think *you* had to fight? The only way you know how to fight is that stupid way with a gun. Well, there's another way you probably never even heard of. It's the daily fight that everyone has. To get food and an education, to land a job and keep it. And some self-respect. 'Safe'? I never asked for anything safe. All I want is... just a little decency, that's all.


“Keep your eye on “Miss Law and Order” here. She might go soprano on us.”


“Why don’t you just take that hole in your head and close it?”

and of course this mighty exchange:

Pat Regan: [as Joe is about to leave to collect money from Rick Coyle] Be careful, and come back soon.

Joe Sullivan: Ah, you bet. You bet I will. As they say, life begins with 50 G's.

For critics at the time, Raw Deal (1948) was fairly low-grade fare. But the modern film noir buff knows better, and with the view of posterity it is great to see the fantastical frights and sensations which make Raw Deal a stand-out sample of the style. 

John Ireland in Raw Deal (1948)

Joe's quest for freedom is uninterrupted, and Raw Deal pile drives its way from start to finish, barely stopping for breath. 

The issue remains that at this time, even as late as 1948, the producers and writers of Hollywood were not entirely conscious of the fact that they were creating film noir. They had something bad on their hands, and were not afraid to exploit it, and before colour film was the norm, shadows, fog and stark lighting and darkness to set the mood.

Showdown by the clock face in Raw Deal (1948)

The mood is in fact mighty strange, especially when the the trio get over to California. In the roadhouse taxidermy store where they expect to find rest, there is a massive punch-up which takes place seemingly in the dark, and although the joint is creepy and weird enough as it is with its stuffed animals, including a great big bear, the shades are drawn, as they are elsewhere in Raw Deal, blacking out the sun and creating a darkened sphere inside, where the action is going to unfold.

Claire Trevor in Raw Deal (1948)

The most interesting dynamic in Raw Deal, which is in fact a film of interesting dynamics in general is that between Pat and Ann. Pat is the street-wise woman who helps Joe escape, and retains her cynical front, giving verbal slaps back to the harsh world around her. 

Violent showdown — Raymond Burr v Dennis O'Keefe in
Raw Deal (1948)

Ann is the moral and at times moralising wife-to-be, who promises goodness and demure stability. Pat is the woman of the moment, the woman of crime and the tough confidante that knows how to deal with these babyish guys from moment to moment. America only forwards one of these female ideals and to find out which — watch Raw Deal (1948)


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