Life and Death in L.A.: July 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014


From left, Pat Cameron (Claire Trevor), Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt) and Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe) in 'Raw Deal' (1948).
Be forewarned, there are many SPOILERS contained below.
In film noir, it's unusual for the femme fatale to act as narrator. But in "Raw Deal," the dilemmas of conscience are seen through the eyes of the morally challenged Pat Cameron (Claire Trevor), who cares only about saving herself and her convict boyfriend Joe Sullivan (Dennis O'Keefe).

Pat narrates the action in voiceover, as other-worldly music warbles in the background. When social  worker Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt), a straight arrow, enters the picture, Pat starts to feel that do-gooder Ann is crowding her out of the picture.

Joe skips out of prison — he wants a breath of fresh air — and circumstances bring Joe, Pat and Ann together. The trio goes on the lam and it doesn't take long for the smoldering love triangle to catch fire.

But it's not strictly a love story. There's a fair amount of action sprinkled about. Director Anthony Mann handles the film's violence artfully. Several fistfights and shootouts happen in dark, shadowy or foggy places, and we don't really see who is getting the better of whom. It's a device that ramps up the tension, and probably saved this bare-bones production some money in its stunts budget.

Each of the three main characters faces a moral dilemma or two. When another outlaw appears on the scene and begs for shelter, Joe must decide whether or not to hide the unlucky perp and put himself in jeopardy. Predictably, Pat wants to lock the schnook out, but Joe, against his better judgment, let's him in.

Going Native
Meanwhile, Ann, kidnapped by Joe and Pat, gets a strong case of Stockholm syndrome and goes from good girl to gaga for Joe.

When Pat receives the call that head bad guy Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr) captured Ann, and that he's going to do her in if Joe doesn't turn himself in to the gang boss, Pat flunks the morality test when she dummies up and doesn't spill the news to Joe, who would certainly come to Ann's rescue.

As the clock ticks and the couple gets ready to head for South America, Pat gets a pang of conscience. She fesses up and tells Joe that Ann's in trouble.

Joe to the Rescue
Joe confronts Rick at gunpoint, but Rick outdraws Joe and they wound each other. They struggle and the apartment accidentally catches fire. As the story wraps up we're treated to one of the film's least convincing process shots.
Joe, reunited with Ann, takes a tumble as a befuddled Pat looks on helplessly. 

Joe finally gets the breath of fresh air he wanted so badly when he was in the jug, but won't have the pleasure of savoring it. Pat finally sees happiness in Joe's face, but it's too late.

While Ann makes the leap from rigid, upstanding citizen to one who bends her principles for the man she secretly loves, Pat is redeemed when she decides to act in a morally sound manner, even if it means making a supreme sacrifice. 
With its bittersweet ending, we see that even in this tale of the doomed, a ray or two of sunlight can penetrate the dark clouds.