I recently felt like I had been watching too many new and modern movies. Too many colour movies, too many from the 70s and later. I also felt like even the older movies I was watching were too obvious, based on actors and directors I knew and loved. One of the main reasons I started writing this blog was to make myself catch up on classics I’d always been meaning to see. Another reason was to watch more different movies that I never would normally get around to. I don’t know how I found Raw Deal, but I do know I didn’t recognise any of the people in front of or behind the camera. And being made in the 40s, it ticked the required vintage box also.
Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe) is in jail. The crime he committed to get there is never made clear. What is made clear, is that he has taken the wrap for other people and kept his mouth shut. One day, he’s visited by two women. His well meaning and good intentioned social worker Ann (Marsha Hunt), who is encouraging Joe to keep his nose clean in the hopes of an early parole for good behavior. His other visitor is his girlfriend Pat (Claire Trevor). She’s encouraging Joe to take another path. A path that means a breakout organised by Joe’s criminal accomplice, Rick (Raymond Burr).
Against all odds, Joe’s breakout is a success and Pat is waiting to speed away. The only problem with that is, Rick was counting on the odds. If Joe was killed by prison guards during the breakout, Rick would be off the hook for $50,000 owed to Joe after the crime that landed him in the joint. So now, Joe and Pat are on the run, trying to lay low and avoid road blocks as they make their way to San Francisco where they have tickets aboard a ship out of the country. Once Ann gets caught up with the two, a love triangle is added to Joe’s problems.
Joe might be at the centre of Raw Deal, but the movie really belongs to the two women in his life. It’s Ann and Pat who drive this story and inspire every decision Joe makes. And the two actresses make that believable. You totally get why Joe is with the ruthless Pat, and has been for a while. You also totally get that this lifelong criminal might start to question that life of crime if a woman like Ann showed an interest in his wellbeing.
Raw Deal sets up all of it characters, it establishes the world they live in, it establishes a goal for Joe to pursue, it adds real stakes to the story so you actually give a shit about Joe, and it follows his story to an ending that feels totally earned. And it does all of that in 80 minutes. Maybe it was a result of film stock and movie making in general being more expensive and more difficult back then, but a lot of movies from this period are proof that almost every story can be told in well under two hours. And that’s something more modern directors and screenwriters need to keep in mind.