' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Raw Deal (1948)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday's Old Fashioned: Raw Deal (1948)

If so often film noir protagonists fatalistically tie themselves to metaphorical tracks, insistent on riding all the way to a tragic conclusion, “Raw Deal’s” (1948) Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe), stuck inside the slammer on account of taking the fall for vicious mobster Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr) and still owed his share, is given the option to hop off, and the question becomes whether or not he will take it. These dueling decisions present themselves in the form of two different women in his life, each one glimpsed in the movie’s opening, where they have brief prison visitations with Joe. First, Ann (Marsha Hunt), a kindly social worker who sees the good in Joe, if she also sees what a dashing figure he can cut in the right light and when he lets his sneering guard down, and seeks to free him from jail on the level. Second, Pat (Claire Trevor), Joe’s squeeze, who loves him as the nasty, tough-talking gangster he mostly seems to be, and wants to help Joe make an escape so they can rendezvous with Rick, get Joe’s share and then make a by-sea beeline for Brazil. It is, in other words, another rendering of the ancient Angel/Devil conundrum, though director Anthony Mann, pulling no punches, makes it count with a furious vengeance.

He underlines this Angel/Devil idea with several shots of the trio lined up one-by-one in the front seat of a car, bound together in Joe’s breakout after he flees jail on unwitting account of Rick pulling behind-the-scenes strings in hopes that his fall guy will get killed in the escape attempt. That doesn’t happen, with Pat serving as his getaway driver, even after their car breaks down and gives the cops time to throw up a sizable dragnet, as they briefly hide out with Ann, who finds herself repulsed upon realizing Joe has no desire to be an honest man. She then becomes something like a hostage, though occasionally an unwilling accomplice, acting out of the best interest of the innocents they encounter that Joe threatens, while Pat looks at her with all the hate in the world.

The devil on the shoulder trope comes complete with cruel misogyny as Joe emotionally abuses and manipulates both women. Though Ann mostly pushes back, Pat can’t help but fall victim, almost willingly, evinced by her voiceover flowing in and out of the whole film, where she tells this story at some point in the future, tinged with fatalism even if she can't help but still exude an affection revealing the psychological stranglehold he had, and still does, over her. That misogyny extends further, frightfully to Rick, introduced with some nameless blonde sitting in the back of the room, passively reading, though later, at a club, he rejects that same blonde’s overtures. Mann shoots this rejection by looking down on Rick, at a gaming table, underscoring his brewing insecurity on account of losing at cards. And then, when Rick stands, Mann switches the camera angle, looking up at the gangster as he demonstrates the power he so desperately wants to believe he has by seizing a tray of fire, ignited by Curvoisier, and tossing it in the face of his nameless blonde, her bone-chilling screams kept off screen because they barely register to their perpetrator.

Fire plays an integral role in the climax too, foreshadowed by a story from Joe’s childhood in which he saved numerous children from a fire, which Ann brings up when trying to appeal to his inner-good. He gets that chance again when he goes to save Ann after she’s kidnapped by Rick in an attempt to hold her as leverage. Initially it seems like this won’t work, as Rick’s call to Joe is taken by Pat, who hangs up, determined not to let this interfering Other Woman perish, a moment of reckoning that Mann shoots in close-up, reveling in Pat’s black veil, like she is announcing Ann’s funeral. And a funeral is evoked in the ensuing shot, Joe gazing out a window at foggy bay, saying sweet nothings about their future that his voice doesn’t really believe, with Ann in the lower left-hand corner of the frame, frozen. Finally, she stands and tells Joe the truth, which she couldn’t initially bear to tell because of what he immediately does, toss her aside to go help Ann.

He rescues her, true, in a showdown with Rick that ends with a house going up in flames, into which the vicious gangster is sent, sentenced to hell. Joe, wounded, dies too, though away from the fire, suggesting redemption and something like passage through the pearly gates. And Pat, her voiceover closing the film, is stranded between in something like purgatory, in what, frankly, comes across less like a raw deal than her own mordant doing.

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