Life is just...a Raw Deal!
Raw Deal is one of those movies that film scholars immediately name when talking film noir; made in the years immediately following WWII, it's all deep shadows, death, betrayal, and for good measure, pyromania:
Prisoner Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe) is doing a stretch in the Big House for a crime that he probably didn't do; no, he's taken the hit for a former partner-in-crime, big time mobster Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr). He's being visited by his dame, Pat (Claire Trevor), who is helping him a plan a break out:
What neither Joe or Pat know is, the skids for this particular escape are being greased by Rick, who has no intention of cutting Joe in on the spoils of the crime that put Joe in the slammer. The plan is that Joe will try and escape, and get killed in the attempt. Easy-peasy!
Except, this being film noir, nothing goes as planned: Joe's escape works, and soon he and Pat are driving off in the dead of night. Joe decides to stop and kidnap his social worker Ann (Marsha Hunt), who seemed sympathetic to his plight while he was doing the proverbial nickel up in Attica (okay, I'll stop with the prison slang). This immediately, understandably, sets Pat off a little, since Joe seems a little too keen on Ann as well. Things only get more complicated when Ann is forced to shoot a goon of Rick's death so she can save Joe's life. Dames!
Rick, for his part, does not take terribly well to the news that Joe has escaped and is coming for his money. As played by Burr, Rick is a hulking brute who dresses is nice suits and has fancy home decorations; but lurking just underneath the polite exterior is a volcano of rage:
One of Rick's goons is a smartass named Fantail(!) played by John Ireland. Even though he seems to work for Rick, Fantail seems to take delight in egging Rick on, even mocking him to his face. When he confronts Joe at gunpoint, he seems less concerned with carrying out his boss's instructions than he is just messing with Joe's head:
Raw Deal is enormously entertaining; as directed by Anthony Mann, the movie's entire world is one of dark alleyways, police lights seen through venetian blinds, and guns in pockets. Hell, one of the characters lives on a street called Cork Screw Alley! The plot unfolds as it must, since this is a film noir, but it still feels fresh.
All the performances are solid, but what really stuck out to me were the bad guys: Ireland's weird, self-amused Fantail (who I'm sure plays craps with Tommy Udo every week), and Burr's Coyle, whom Mann always shoots from an angle highlighting his mountainous frame:
As of this writing, Raw Deal is available on Netflix WI, so give it a play when you're in the mood for a dark, grim mini-masterpiece. And stay away from open flame when Rick Coyle is around.