Friday, January 17, 2020

Noir Watch: Raw Deal (1948)

Watched:  01/13/2019
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's

A few months ago, I had purchased a BluRay collection of films, all shot by noir-famous cinematographer John Alton.*  I'd had great intentions, but never made it into the disc.  For whatever reason, I finally did crack open the case and put in the BluRay and I get what the hubbub is about.

This was my first viewing of Raw Deal (1948), a fairly staple noir film, but one that I'd just not made time for before - which is a shame, because I liked a lot of the movie, and would probably use it to illustrate some classic noir tropes and definitely as a teaching tool for the epitome of noir cinematography from the height of the movement.

Dennis O'Keefe plays a guy who took the rap for a big time crime boss (Raymond Burr playing a vicious flavor of incompetent mobster), and realizes he's not going to get the payout and help he was promised.  He manages to spring himself and his girlfriend, Claire Trevor, is there to help him escape - so crazy in love she doesn't mind supporting her man even as he seems hellbent on some very bad ideas.

They pick up/ kidnap a woman from O'Keefe's lawyer's office who was helping him with his case/ weirdly visiting him in prison (with hearts in her eyes) and hit the road, headed for San Francisco and then Mexico.  Immediately, Trevor realizes their hostage is a good girl and maybe her man is starting to like her a bit.

Trevor seeks comfort in the dad-like arms of O[Keefe

Noir is loaded with sinful dames paired in contrast with the angels from nextdoor, rarely meeting and both making eyes at a protagonist.  It's almost a version of the cartoon angel and devil on a protagonist's shoulders.  Here, we see them trapped in the same car and wrapped up in the same business - but it's not like Trevor's character is a true femme fatale - she's just maybe morally a bit more limber than her competition (Marsha Hunt).

I used to not think much of Claire Trevor, but, friends, I was *wrong*.  And I repent.  Trevor was a phenomenal actor, and maybe a tad ahead of her time - she can be natural in a world of actors still playing by the rules of 1940's-era screen-craft.  She's lovely, but she was never someone who just got by with a sloe-eyed glance - she's doing a lot in Raw Deal, and provides a sympathetic POV when our lead male is maybe not the greatest guy and Hunt's character is maybe a little uptight.

But, man, is this a beautifully shot movie.  An exemplar of the form, it plays with shadow and light, deep focus and crafty framing.  The stills, intended for publicity for actors and whatnot, don't do the film justice.  But you can find some frames online.

The movie also features the shot of Claire Trevor used in the Noir Alley opening on TCM, Trevor at the wheel of a car looking horrified - so - that's a free factoid.

All in all - not my favorite film, but it is gorgeous and gets a lot rougher around the edges than I think folks might expect.  But I just never really built an affinity for any character but Trevor's, and she - frankly, doesn't have much to do but worry she's losing her man. 

*I found this article well after I saw the movie and started writing this post!  Timely!

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