Raw Deal (1948) is simply a great noir. The plot is nothing extraordinary, but interesting nonetheless. Jailbreak, love triangle, not-so happy ending. (As usual, my reviews are full of spoilers, be warned
) Raw Deal does not bother with details that would make it unnecessarily long. It does not specify what kind of crime got Joe (O'Keefe) in jail, and how exactly he makes his escape. It is just implied that his escape was somehow assisted by fellow gangster Rick Coyle (Burr) who owes him 50 grand for taking sole responsibility for whatever the felony was they committed together. We are briefly introduced to Rick and his henchman Fantail (Ireland) and Spider (Conway). Rick struts around in his lair in a robe that seems to have "gay, gay, gay" written all over it, and he has a disturbing interest in fire. His favorite toy is a cigarette lighter, and there's many candles burning in his headquarters on Corkscrew Alley, which is also the street where both Joe and his moll Pat (Trevor, also the narrator) grew up. Rick is convinced that Joe will be killed during his escape, so he can keep the 50.000 bucks for himself. But Joe and Pat do make it. However, the prison snipers punctured the getaway car's gas tank, so first hijack a taxi and later pay a nightly visit to Ann (Hunt), the young woman who had been visiting Joe in prison, and who seems to believe that underneath the hardened criminal there's a good soul in hiding. Joe kisses her awake, and hours later the three of them squeeze into Ann's car and continue their escape. Pat notices that Joe is attracted to Ann, and she gets very jealous of her. On Corkscrew Alley, it is Rick's birthday, and his mood is neither improved by his bad luck at card games, nor by the news that Joe made it through the police dragnet and seems to be in the clear. When a girl who fancies him (Chili "polka dot girl" Williams) accidentally spills her drink on his threads, he throws a fiery desert into her face. Rick sends out Fantail (I love that name, by the way) to a scheduled meeting with Joe in a taxidermist's shop near the ocean
to finish him off. Joe goes with Ann, leaving Pat, who sprained her ankle (probably deliberately, so Joe will carry her in his arms) back. And he walks straight into the trap. The crooked taxidermist, aptly named Grimshaw, disarms Joe, but Joe does not give up easily. He struggles with both Grimshaw and Fantail, and they use the the taxidermist's props: knives, metal rods, even a deer's antlers, in their fight. When it looks like Joe is going to be killed, Ann picks up Joe's gun and shoots Fantail. Then she runs down the beach, sobbing. Joe tries to console her, first by telling her that Fantail survived, and when it that doesn't really work, he tells her she did it to save him. Ann passionately declares her love for Joe. Joe, however, looks glum. Joe does not believe in a common future with Ann, and he sends her home
but near a gas station she is captured by Fantail, who actually did survive. Meanwhile, Joe and Pat are at a hotel, packing their suitcases, they plan to flee to South America. The phone rings, Pat picks it up, and Spider tells her that Rick has Ann, and that he will do some very bad things to her if Joe doesn't show up. Pat lies to Joe, telling him it was the desk clerk. Joe and Pat are aboard a steamer, and Joe tells a steward he wants to get married at sea. Pat is initially happy, but she soon realizes that Joe does not love her, he loves Ann, and she will only be a proxy for her. And then she blurts out the truth about the phone call. Joe does not hesitate a minute. IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW HOW IT ENDS, STOP READING NOW!!!
Joe turns up on Corkscrew Alley, he does away with Spider and Fantail and confronts Rick at the dinner table. Joe really seems to have mellowed out, he hesitates when Rick, tells him: "You know I never carry a gun." Except he does
he shoots Joe without retrieving the gun from his pocket, through the folds of the clothes. Joe, shoots back, the two engage in a nasty fight that causes the curtains to catch on fire. Joe pushes Rick into the flames and out of the window. Rick gives two nice screams before hitting the ground. Joe manages to get out of the burning building with Ann, but he is mortally wounded. He dies in Ann's arms, while Pat watches, handcuffed. There's no happy ending for anybody in this movie, which only adds to its appeal. It has both soft (but never sappy) and violent moments, and great acting by everybody. I liked especially Burr and Ireland, who play really vicious thugs, but O'Keefe and the two ladies are also great. Great camera work, too.