Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe) is planning a big escape from prison, and when he gets out he’s looking for revenge on Rick (Raymond Burr), the man who got him stuck in prison in the first place. Not only did Rick let Joe take the fall for a crime, but he also owes Joe $50,000 bucks.
Hoping that Joe will be caught during the escape and get locked up even longer, Rick helps hatch the plan. But with the help of love-struck ladyfriend Pat (Claire Trevor) and a kind, sympathetic caseworker named Ann (Marsha Hunt), Joe manages to pull off the escape successfully.
Soon Ann becomes smitten with Joe, and he must choose between the two ladies who helped him escape. He must also battle with his inner demons to decide whether he’s going to continue living as a criminal or completely turn his life around.
Anthony Mann directs 1948’s Raw Deal, a crime drama from Reliance Pictures/Edward Small Productions. The film is also sometimes known under the working title of Corkscrew Alley.
Raw Deal is an engrossing tale from the very beginning. It draws the viewer in by setting the stage with a prison visit in which a man and woman discuss some sort of scheme-y, criminal plans — all in code, of course, so the guard doesn’t catch on. This discussion turns out to be the plan for Joe’s great escape.
The film is full of your typical “tough guy” and “sneaky lady” characters, but is elevated by the fact that the three lead performers do such a wonderful job. Each actor brings a great sense of desperation to the screen. They may be able to pull off a near-impossible prison escape, but they can’t run from the past, and it is a completely suffocating force on them.
Claire Trevor’s character of Pat is particularly fascinating. Trevor provides a lot of narration throughout the film, giving the viewer direct access to Pat’s thoughts. This is unusual because in noir films the narration is usually handled by the lead male — the criminal himself or the detective who has been hunting him. On top of that, her narration is delivered in a spaced out, almost whispered voice and is accompanied by eerie music. This combination has a truly unique effect on the film’s tone (lending it a sense of heaviness) and on the viewer’s level of interest in what otherwise may have been a pretty typical crime story.
The performances are all incredibly solid, but Trevor’s is the clear stand-out.
Visually, the film is great as well. It’s a B-level picture but it sticks very closely to the trademarks of noir. Here on TMP we all know that I’m a total sucker for great shadows — an affinity gained through my experience developing black and white film and photographs — and this film has shadows aplenty! The use of both urban and more natural (forest, beach) settings also adds a lot of visual interest to the action.
Raw Deal is not one to miss, especially for fans of crime drama or those interested in discovering undervalued, forgotten films. It is a wonderful little piece of work, worth tuning in for Claire Trevor’s performance alone but with plenty of appeal outside of her performance as well.
The score: 4.5/5
Watch this film: Netflix