Thursday, January 25, 2007

RAW DEAL (1948)

Another excellent low-budget film noir from Anthony Mann (see below). Dennis O'Keefe is stewing away in a San Francisco prison, sent there for his part in a robbery which was masterminded by Raymond Burr, who kept all the money and set O'Keefe up to take the fall. Burr sends O'Keefe's moll, Claire Trevor, to break O'Keefe out of jail; Burr assumes that they won't actually get past the guards or the cops, but they do, which makes Burr nervous enough to send thug John Ireland out after them. Meanwhile, O'Keefe has stopped by the home of his social worker, Marsha Hunt, with whom he's gotten friendly, to get some help so he can face off with Burr, claim the money owed to him, and escape to Panama. Hunt tries to turn him in but he ends up taking her with them, setting up an occasionally tense on-the-road triangle. There's an incident at a mountain cabin involving a wife killer that has little to do with the plot except to add tension and show us that, for a crook, O'Keefe is basically an OK guy. Ireland catches up to them one night at a beachfront fishing supply store (a nicely atmospheric building) and after O'Keefe is double crossed by the store owner, fierce fisticuffs and gunplay ensue and Hunt saves O'Keefe's life. He sends her away so she won't get in any more trouble, but Burr's men snag her and get the message to Trevor that they'll torture her if he doesn't come in from the cold, so to speak, on Burr's terms. Trevor is torn: she wants O'Keefe for herself, but also realizes that Hunt is in a jam not of her own making. The well played finale, on fog-shrouded Corkscrew Alley, has violent fighting, a dangerous fire and excellent cinematography. This movie is a keeper all around, from the solid acting, especially from O'Keefe, Trevor, and Burr, to its shadowy look (thanks largely to cinematographer John Alton), to the tense tone which is kept up throughout. The film includes a famous shot of Burr throwing a flaming dessert dish in the face of a young woman who accidentally splashed a drink on him. Well worth seeing, and a must for noir fans. [TCM]

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