Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe) is finally getting out of prison. He took the rap for his friend Rick, played by the 1948 Villain-in-Residence Raymond Burr (remember Pitfall (1948)?), who has now set up a deliberately flawed escape plan for him, to try and get rid of him for good. Pat (Claire Trevor), Joe’s girl and the movie’s narrator, helps him escape and the two of them kidnap Ann (Marsha Hunt), the social worker who’s been visiting Joe. This leads to an inevitable love triangle set in the midst of endless chasing, running away, mystery, danger and doom.
Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal is exactly that. Raw. Tough. No-nonsense. Unlike most noirs, there’s no backstory to help you sympathize, or at least, empathize with its characters. You don’t even know where you stand with Joe. What did he do? Is he guilty? Innocent? Is he as big a cad as he seems? We don’t know. What you see is all you’re going to get, deal with it.
Mann’s masterful direction is beautifully complemented by John Alton’s stunning cinematography. Raw Deal looks incredible. It takes your regular ‘shadows and dim light’ motif to a whole new level. In certain scenes, we almost feel like we’re watching some sort of psychological, gothic thriller. It’s amazing. Mann and Alton often worked together, and I’m going to be talking about another one of their movies soon.
Raw Deal is one of the all-time great unsung noirs. And you know me, I like to root for the underdog and the underrated – maybe I should do a series of reviews under that title? I’ll think about that.