Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal (1948) goes a lot further than his definitely B-moview flick, Railroaded. There were times when it dragged, but right from the start, we know we are in for something unique in film noir. The story is told in flashback narration by a woman, and it’s accompanied by an eerie theramin soundtrack.
Raymond Burr plays Rick, the heavy heavy – He let Joe take the rap for him, and now he’s helping him break out of the joint, knowing that the chances are excellent that Joe will be killed. That would be convenient. Rick likes to play with fire, and he likes to use it to make women talk. Denis O’Keefe plays Joe; he isn’t so bad: he’s gotten a raw deal in life. Anne, the cute paralegal who was involved with his case knows, or believes, that deep down he’s good, but he doesn’t give all that much evidence of it. Then she realizes he’s like something from under a rock – I love that line! Later, she surrenders to her love for him, regardless of his morals.
The film has wonderful atmospheric shots, especially the ending, which includes a shootout on the foggy San Francisco docks. Throughout, there are striking compositions, and one truly amazing audio-visual sequence (see the video at the bottom) that portrays the state of mind of Pat, Joe’s moll. The level of violence shown in the film was remarkable for 1948, and includes brutal fights, an attack with a broken off bottle, and Rick dumping flaming liquor on a woman.
It all begins with that eerie voice-over as Pat narrates her visit to Joe to tell him of the plan to spring him that night. The camera shows her point of view as she drives up to the prison gate. He’s receiving a visit from another woman, Anne, who is there to encourage him to seek parole. No dice, he wants to breathe! The ending is a given – she loses him to another girl, and he dies, but he gets his breath of fresh air.
When John Ireland, playing Rick’s henchman, Fantail, prepares to kill Joe, they have a little Zen exchange on following the breath. A precious thing, breath. A bit of satori via noir.