Raw Deal is Film Noir at its best. This riveting chronicle of an escaped convict’s frantic hunt for the mob kingpin who cheated him is tense, taut, and packed with powerful performances. ClassicFlix honors this long-neglected film with a fantastic special edition featuring a stunning 2K restoration, high-quality audio, an absorbing array of supplements, and a beautifully designed 24-page booklet. This release is Highly Recommended.
“I want to breathe. That’s why I want out of this place. So I can take a deep breath again.”
Film noir is all about tight jams, claustrophobia, entrapment, and desperation. Tough guys and conniving dames driven by greed, obsession, and/or revenge live on the edge, often willing to risk everything and betray everyone to get what they want. Some act impulsively and foolishly, while others spin devious webs of deceit, manipulating people like pawns on a chess board. The hard-knocks world of noir is filled with roadblocks and dead-end alleys, but even if the heroes and heroines find an avenue of escape, no one emerges unscathed.
Raw Deal epitomizes that universe and succinctly sums up what almost every character in noir’s cynical orbit ultimately gets. Fresh from their triumph with the blockbuster T-Men, director Anthony Mann, cinematographer John Alton, and actor Dennis O’Keefe join forces once again for a more intimate, downbeat tale that focuses on a convict on the lam, his quest for retribution, and the two women vying for his affection. Emotion is the wild card here, and its incendiary nature drives this textbook yarn and forces its likable trio to confront moral quandaries and make difficult choices they may well regret.
Joe Sullivan (O’Keefe) has already gotten a raw deal, and as the film opens, he’s rotting in prison after taking the rap for a robbery he committed with Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr), a mob kingpin who also holds Joe’s $50,000 share of the take. After a visit from comely legal assistant Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt), who assures Joe he’ll get parole in a few years if he behaves himself, Joe meets with his girlfriend, Pat Regan (Claire Trevor), to finalize plans for his jailbreak that night. Joe hopes to confront Rick, collect his $50 grand, and jump on a ship bound for Panama, yet little does he know Rick has sent his henchmen to ambush the escape and kill him.
Joe and Pat slip through their grasp, but need a car to escape San Francisco‘s police dragnet. Joe convinces the upstanding Ann, who’s attracted to his mix of sincerity and darkness, to help them, much to the dismay of the jealous Pat, who worries Joe may be falling for her. The three go on the run and, over the next couple of days, try to evade both the cops and Rick’s chief thug, Fantail (John Ireland), all while romantic complications intensify. With any luck, Joe will confront Rick, get his money, and take the girl he loves - whoever she may be - to Panama. But luck and Joe don’t have much of a track record.
Though it doesn’t exude as much style as the visually dazzling T-Men, Raw Deal nevertheless casts a hypnotic spell. Mann and Alton juxtapose a palpable sense of depth with extreme close-ups to create an uneasy, tense atmosphere that keeps the viewer engaged and off balance. Few noir directors can rival their creativity, and their expert manipulation of light and shadow heightens the impact of standard shots, transforming them into beautiful, interesting images. Perhaps the most striking example is a shot of Trevor’s face reflected on the face of a clock (see photo below). Raw Deal may be a low-budget movie, but Mann and Alton make sure never to compromise its artistry.
Noir is typically chauvinistic, but Raw Deal provides both Trevor and Hunt with meaty, pivotal roles. The love triangle is a major cog in the narrative wheel, and both Ann and Pat undergo fascinating transformations over its course. Ann is the good girl, the model citizen who works for the law, but her attraction to Joe makes her willing to walk on the wild side and explore darker aspects of her character. Pat, on the other hand, is the quintessential bad girl, a dame who’s seen her share of hard knocks, trusts no one, and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty if the situation warrants it. Yet underneath the brassy, cynical veneer lies a vulnerable woman with a heart of gold who longs for an honest relationship.
Trevor, one of Hollywood’s most underrated actresses, anchors the film with a beautifully modulated performance, beginning with her smoky, almost catatonic voiceover narration that instantly sets the movie’s seductive, eerie tone. Though we care about Ann and Joe, it’s Pat who grabs our gaze - and steals our heart - whenever she’s on screen. 1948 would prove to be a banner year for Trevor, and while her dimensional portrayal in Raw Deal often gets overshadowed by her excellent turn as gangster Edward G. Robinson’s boozy, abused moll in Key Largo (which won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar), it stands as one of her best.
Hunt, another fine actress who never received her due, brings warmth, sincerity, and welcome spunk to the evolving Ann, and makes a surprisingly formidable rival for Trevor. Blacklisting and a distaste for the Hollywood high life surely harmed Hunt’s film career, and Raw Deal remains one of the few movies to truly showcase her talent. (At age 100, she’s also one of the last living bastions of the legendary Golden Age.) O’Keefe follows up his excellent work in T-Men with another magnetic performance that cements his reputation as one of noir’s top tough guys, and Burr and Ireland glower and growl to perfection as the lead villains.
Like many independent films, Raw Deal has gotten a raw deal over the years when it comes to gaining widespread renown. The noir cognoscenti rightly sing the praises of this tense, atmospheric, and strangely romantic tale, but without the commitment of home video outfits like ClassicFlix, average moviegoers might never be exposed to it. And that's about as criminal as the thugs who populate the movie. Luckily, ClassicFlix not only releases films like Raw Deal, it also restores them, thus preserving this little-known gem and rightfully raising its low profile. For noir fans, Raw Deal is the real deal, and it deserves a prominent place on their shelf.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
1948’s Raw Deal arrives on Blu-ray in a limited to 5,000 special edition packaged in a standard case. A beautifully appointed 24-page booklet printed on thick, glossy paper and including a comprehensive essay by film historian and Anthony Mann expert Max Alvarez, several black-and-white scene stills, and full-color reproductions of the film’s promotional material is tucked inside the front cover. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, a newly produced preview for the ClassicFlix release of T-Men precedes the static menu with music and narration by Claire Trevor. All of Trevor’s hypnotic voiceover narration from the film is stitched together here, creating a fascinating stream of consciousness, but don’t listen to it in its entirety until you’ve watched the movie. It’s a terrific touch, however, and ClassicFlix deserves kudos for going the extra mile and including it.
ClassicFlix has done an exceptional job restoring and presenting all of its releases so far, but the studio has gone the extra mile with its trio of film noir special editions. T-Men and He Walked by Night both feature outstanding transfers of long-neglected films, and the 2K restoration of Raw Deal, produced from a 35 mm nitrate fine-grain element acquired from the British Film Institute, is equally dazzling. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 rendering preserves the film’s pleasing grain structure, which provides essential texture, and exhibits terrific contrast and clarity. Blacks are lusciously rich, the bright whites of headlights and shafts of sun remain stable, and the nicely varied grays in between help boost detail levels and enhance the depth that distinguishes John Alton’s always beautiful cinematography. Sharp shadow delineation keeps crush at bay most of the time, and delicate weaves like the stitching in Trevor’s veil and the bar pattern in the prison’s visiting room remain rock solid and resist shimmering. Stark close-ups show off facial features well, and only a couple of stray nicks dot the clean, vibrant print. Style is just as important as substance in film noir, and ClassicFlix maximizes its impact with this stunning effort that brings both the rawness and visual poetry of Raw Deal to brilliant life.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio MONO track supplies clear, well-modulated sound. Sonic accents like gunfire, screams, fisticuffs, and screeching wheels are crisp and distinct, and the eerie music score by Paul Sawtell, who also scored T-Men, fills the room with ease. All the dialogue, even when whispered, is easy to comprehend, and while a slight bit of distortion could be detected on occasion, any hiss, pops, or crackles have been erased. Though not as strong as the video, this audio transfer serves the film well, especially considering its advanced age.
A few absorbing supplements add luster to this special edition release.
Audio Commentary - Film historian Jeremy Arnold sits down for a spirited, informative commentary that covers quite a bit of ground during the tight 79-minute timeframe. Arnold calls Raw Deal “a sublime picture” that flips film noir conventions and features characters with “shades of gray.” Among other things, he discusses the predominant theme of entrapment, the movie’s production history, the moral ambiguity of the characters, censorship issues that forced changes in the script, and the distinctive styles of Mann and cinematographer John Alton. He also provides several cast and crew bios and talks about the theremin, a distinctive electric instrument that was trendy during the late 1940s and used by composer Paul Sawtell to underscore Trevor’s narration. Arnold’s relaxed speaking style and obvious enthusiasm for Raw Deal enhance this track, which noir fans will certainly enjoy.
Featurette: “Deadly Is the Male: The Making of Raw Deal” (HD, 9 minutes) - This breezy piece features comments by film historians Alan K. Rode, Julie Kirgo, and C. Courtney Joyner, all of whom revere this film. Rode calls Raw Deal “one of the finest film noirs of the classic film noir, post-World War II period,” and he and his colleagues address such topics as the “homme fatale” (as opposed to the more common femme fatale), the movie’s rare female narration, its graphic violence and the censorship concerns it spawned, and the performances of Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt, and Raymond Burr. Like the similar featurettes on the T-Men and He Walked by Night discs, this one provides welcome context and perspective on a film that rarely receives its due.
Featurette: “Dennis O’Keefe: An Extraordinary Ordinary Guy” (HD, 6 minutes) - Rare photos and personal reminiscences from his son Jim highlight this welcome salute to actor Dennis O’Keefe, who appeared in dozens of films but never really got the recognition he deserved. A “skilled craftsman” who also wrote, produced, and directed, O’Keefe began his career appearing in light comedies and musicals before T-Men transformed him into a tough guy. While it would have been great to see some clips of O’Keefe in other types of roles, this featurette nevertheless does a fine job of honoring this “underrated” actor whose death at 60 from lung cancer cut short a distinguished career.
Image Gallery - This photo collection contains 16 black-and-white scene and production stills and 12 full-color reproductions of Raw Deal lobby cards and poster art.
Restoration Comparison (HD, 6 minutes) - This lengthy restoration comparison provides several examples of how ClassicFlix has improved the Raw Deal image, including deeper blacks, more clarity, a cleaner print, better contrast, and an absence of jitter.
Film Noir Trailer Gallery (HD, 17 minutes) - I love how ClassicFlix produces new previews for its catalogue classics, but does so in the distinctive style of Hollywood’s Golden Age. This montage includes trailers for Another Man’s Poison, The Killer Is Loose, You Only Live Once, Crime of Passion, He Walked by Night, and T-Men.
Tense, taut, exquisitely filmed, and packed with powerful performances, Raw Deal is film noir at its best. Director Anthony Mann - with an able assist from cinematographer John Alton - cleverly combines a crime yarn with a love triangle in this riveting chronicle of an escaped convict’s frantic hunt for the mob kingpin who cheated him. ClassicFlix honors this long-neglected film with a fantastic special edition featuring a stunning 2K restoration, high-quality audio, an absorbing array of supplements, and a beautifully designed 24-page booklet. If you’re a noir fan, you’ve gotta grab this essential release. Highly Recommended.