(Open Thread) Noir Side Street — “Raw Deal”

Nouvelle Vague (the residues of alphaville). Photo by Emiliano Grusovin.

Today’s film is 1948’s “Raw Deal,” starring Dennis O’Keefe (Joe Sullivan), Claire Trevor (Pat Regan), Marsha Hunt (Ann Martin), Raymond Burr (Rick Coyle), John Ireland (Fantail), Curt Conway (Spider), Chili Williams (Marcy), Richard Fraser (Fields), Whit Bissell (Murderer), Cliff Clark (Gates), Richard Irving (Brock), Harry Tyler (Oscar), Ilka Grüning (Fran, Oscar’s Housekeeper), Tom Fadden (Grimshaw), Robert B. Williams (San Francisco Detective Sergeant), Carey Loftin (Motorcycle Cop), Gregg Barton (Car Owner), and Regis Toomey (Police Captain Fields). Directed by Anthony Mann; cinematography by John Alton. Produced by Edward Small for Reliance Pictures/Edward Small Productions; distributed by Eagle-Lion Films. Music by Paul Sawtell. Screenplay by Leopold Atlas and John C. Higgins; from a story by Arnold B. Armstrong and Audrey Ashley.

This film was restored by Classic Flix, and they did a great job cleaning up the print and preserving this movie for posterity. Here’s the film trailer:

Joe Sullivan escapes prison with the help of his girl Pat Regan, but the plan soon goes awry and they end up bringing Ann Martin along with them, as they try to evade both the police dragnet closing in around them, as well as the mob. And if that doesn’t entice you to watch this film, nothing will.

Visually and thematically, this definitely fills the noir bill. There are stunning shots, highly suggestive of German Expressionism liberally sprinkled throughout the movie. There are the expected rain-slicked streets, plenty of scenes taking place in the fog, and light starkly piercing through shadows. They even used set dressing to brilliant effect. (See the next clip for an example of that.) Visually, the film is a joy to behold; even more so when you consider the small budget used to produce it.

Here’s another clip where you can see some of the use of fog, light, and shadow to set the mood.

The film runs a tight 79 minutes; every moment in every scene is driving the story forward to its inevitable conclusion; there’s no filler here. Even though the plot is fairly straightforward, it manages to provide a curveball or two, as well. (The twists provided by quirks of Fate serve to further complicate Joe’s quest for freedom.)

We have expected film noir stock characters like “the heavy” played by Burr, the flawed protagonist living by his own moral code, the bad girl–more a moll than a femme fatale, in this case. There’s even a good girl, who, along with the moll, is fighting for the soul of the protagonist. An assortment of other underworld goons, lackeys, and accomplices round out the cast. The entire cast does a tremendous job artfully bringing their characters to life, maybe especially Burr, whose malevolence as the heavy made his reputation as an actor.

Here’s a clip showcasing Burr’s standout performance:

Normally I don’t mention the film’s scoring, but in this case, it really adds to create creepy tension. Who knew a theremin could work in a film noir just as well as it does in a science fiction or horror movie?

The movie succeeds on all levels to deliver a satisfying film noir experience. For that reason, I give this a full 5 out of 5 unfiltered cigarette puffs.

Now let’s turn our attention to the month of August. As previously mentioned, TCM’s Noir Alley hosted by Eddie Muller will be on hiatus while the network hosts their “Summer Under The Stars” feature. Because of that, I’ll be doing my own programming and have been working diligently watching films to find the best to share with you. The theme for next month will be “Women of Noir,” and we’ll cover the gamut of female characters–from femme fatale, to good girl, to female protagonists. First in this series will be 1953’s “Dangerous Crossing.” It was a toss-up whether I chose this or “Shock,” but “Dangerous Crossing” won out, even though the former stars Vincent Price. You can find a link to the movie here, so you can watch it at any time this week. Hopefully, you will do so and we can discuss it in the comments.

As always, this is an open thread, so feel free to discuss whatever you like in the comments section below.

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