Saturday, March 26, 2016

RAW DEAL (1948)

Anthony Mann directs another tough crime noir starring Dennis O’Keefe, a prisoner soon to break out unscathed with the help of his lady, Claire Trevor. Her character is full of angst and self-obsession. Her inner thoughts voiced throughout the film by Trevor, accompanied by the mental instability sound of a Theremin. It gets more amusing with each use, finding it easy to substitute Madeline Kahn in the role.

In the course of the late night escape, O’Keefe stops at Marsha Hunt’s place, his caseworker while in prison. His break-out is not what she recommended and attempts to call the police for his own protection. But he abducts her and the trio swap cars and escape a roadblock as expected. Trevor, insecurity personified, does not like Hunt. Jealous of her. Trevor wants her removed as soon and however possible. At least not having her sit in the middle of the front seat.

Turns out, the escape was set up by mobster, Raymond Burr, who figured O’Keefe would not escape successfully given the odds. Once again Burr plays a sadistic psycho, a despicable bully who is also terrified when told of the successful escape. He wants him taken out so he does not part with the 50k due him. Burr decides to send his hired gun, John Ireland, in his place to finish him at the designated payoff location. The ensuing intense and believable fist fight does not go down in Burr’s favor either, creating a burr under Ireland’s saddle. Hunt manages to get off a non-fatal shot, bringing Ireland down. Though Hunt carries a torch for O’Keefe, reluctantly he knows his life is more suited with Trevor. Dang it. To keep Hunt safe from harm he sends her back to Los Angeles. But she is recognized by Ireland in route and brings her back to Burr as leverage.

Meanwhile, waiting for their ship to set sail for Mexico, Trevor answers a call from Burr’s mouthpiece who says that Hunt is in grave danger unless O’Keefe makes an appearance. Trevor, in another self-centered decision, lies about the call. O’Keefe is resigned to spend an “eternity” with Trevor, mumbling about what might be. Her face silhouetted in shadows, Miss Theremin reminds us that he will always be thinking of Hunt and her inner thought blurts out her name for O’Keefe to hear. Quicker than he can say “what is wrong with you, lady?!” he slices through a thick fog of thugs and bullets to confront big Burr. Burr is cordial. Sweating. In the darkness, after saying he is unarmed, shoots O’Keefe, who returns fire. O’Keefe locates Hunt and Miss Theremin arrives to finish out the film.
This is a good B-movie with plenty of noir elements. Shots of Burr from a low vantage in his enormous suit presents a good case for widescreen. The low budget is obvious at times with matte paintings or projection backgrounds, but it is balanced by more important location shoots. Mann manages to pull out a good one. It is not that predictable but several standard devices are used once again. I never understood the logic of holding a loaded gun on a driver or passenger when going through a police roadblock, for instance. O’Keefe seems as ruthless as Burr in the beginning but Hunt’s persuasive comments soften him in the end. Soften. A word unfamiliar to Trevor.

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