RAW DEAL indeed, for its ill-fated characters, but a sweet deal for film noir fans, as director Anthony Mann, cinematographer John Alcott, star Dennis O’Keefe and writer John C. Higgins team up again for some exquisitely imagined crime & punishment. Though it didn’t fare as well at the box office as their previous T-Men, this 1948 on-the-lam meller is a more involving and exciting picture, and holds up much better. *
“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.”
‘Joe Sullivan’ (Dennis O’Keefe) escapes from prison with the help of his loyal and loving girlfriend ‘Pat Regan’ (Claire Trevor). They intend to flee the country, but not after getting the 50 grand (that’s half a mil today) Joe is owed by kingpin ‘Rick Coyle’ (Raymond Burr), who let Joe take the fall for him. Against her will, along for the ride is ‘Ann Martin’ (Marsha Hunt), Joe’s sympathetic caseworker. Their barely suppressed feelings for each other don’t put jealous Pat at ease, and duplicitous Rick sends sneering henchman ‘Fantail’ (John Ireland) to head off Joe, in case the pursuing cops don’t get him first. Choices cost. Loyalty lies bleeding. Love hurts.
Writer Higgins and co-scenarist Leopold Atlas give the cast a taut script with some neat twists, director Mann stages it to move lean & mean, and doesn’t hold back on the rough stuff: Burr tosses flaming brandy into the face of his mistress when she spills a drink on him; O’Keefe and Ireland have a brutal hand-to-hand brawl that includes a set of antlers as a weapon–too close to the eyes for comfort; gunplay and a raging fire are enlisted when fists, kicks, bottles and furniture aren’t sufficient.
Attractive in a naturalistic way, O’Keefe, Trevor and Hunt play off each other very effectively in the love triangle business, generating individual and collective sympathy for their variety of predicaments, the exterior and those self-inflicted. Ersatz sophisticated, morally slimy Burr (with shoulder pads that make him roughly the size of Godzilla) and durably sinister Ireland are formidable villains. Suspenseful music score by the prolific and unsung Paul Sawtell makes good use of a theremin. Even better than the solid actors and Mann’s vivid arrangements of action is the marvelous b&w cinematography from John Alcott, heightening the tension and drama in every scene.
It made $3,200,000, coming in 102nd place for the year. Familiar faces in support include Regis Toomey, Whit Bissell and Ray Teal. We do dig that 1946 Dodge Custom convertible coupe. 79 minutes.
* Hard on the heels of this deal, Mann, Alton & Higgins delivered another class-A noir thriller that year, He Walked By Night. 1948 was good for Claire Trevor, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her exemplary work in the year’s most successful crime drama, Key Largo. The talented Marsha Hunt (she turned 103 on Oct.17, 2020) was sidelined by the anti-Commie rag “Red Channels”; after being smeared in 1949, her career suffered substantially.