Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal

If there’s one subset of movies that not only doesn’t require a big budget and big stars but actually benefits from lower budgets and lesser known stars, it’s film noir.  It doesn’t mean you can’t have great noirs of the big budget variety, and we have, from The Maltese Falcon to Out of the Past and dozens in between, before, and after.  It just means that sometimes noir can function exceedingly well when done on the cheap.  One of the best noirs of the forties is Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal.  In the best decade ever for noir, it stands out even among the greats.  That it didn’t get the recognition it deserved at the time now feels like Anthony Mann’s other raw deal.


All noirs take place in another world.  They take place in a world filled with shadows, broken dreams, dangerous men, and even more dangerous women.  The great thing about noir is that the best of them feel like horror movies as much as crime movies.  Raw Deal is no different.  In its opening shots, of Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe), in the visiting room at the prison, talking with social worker, Ann (Marsha Hunt), the music strikes an eerie tone, a minor organ note, held as it wavers, like the kind one hears in a horror movie when the hero is lost in the woods and danger approaches.  The lighting of the scene is ghost-like, muted light and soft focus, and the angle of the shot, a forced perspective as we look down the table behind Joe and Ann, is ominous.  It’s a great opening and sets the feel for the movie, a feeling of being trapped that the isolated visiting room conveys perfectly.

Here’s the setup: Joe’s in prison because he took the fall for Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr) and Ann, the social worker, visits him regularly in an attempt to rehabilitate him.  Pat (Claire Trevor) is Joe’s girl and comes to him with a plan setup by Rick to break Joe out of jail.  Only Rick doesn’t actually want Joe out.  As he reveals to his right hand man, Fantail (John Ireland), he’s expecting Joe to get killed in the jailbreak, at which point he won’t have to worry about Joe finding out he double-crossed him.   He’s even greased some of the guards at the prison to make sure Joe doesn’t make it.  Problem is, Joe makes it.  Pat drives the getaway car but only gets as far as the suburbs because the gas tank got hit with bullets from the break and all the gas has leaked out.  That’s when Joe gets the idea to kidnap Ann and her car to head out of town, on their way to meet up with Rick.  This puts the three of them together in one of the great noir triangles, where the femme fatale may be Pat or Ann, or both.  The film builds to a climax as taut as any thriller you’re likely to see with a few twists of plot along the way and a moral choice by Pat that’s framed as beautifully as anything I’ve ever seen.


Anthony Mann gained a reputation for lean, muscular filmmaking, a reputation he built quickly in the forties.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, in Raw Deal, it means he took characters not fleshed out by monologues and dialogue, with only hints of backstory, and working with extraordinary cinematographer John Alton, crafted characters out of light and shadow, and story out of cuts and cues.  While the Pat character narrates the movie, sometimes in the present (“we’re driving to the coast…”), sometimes in the past (“I felt a little confused…”), she reveals little about anything.  Her narration is just another way to set the mood rather than tell the story.  With Mann, action is the story.

This comes into play in a remarkable fight in a taxidermy shop about two thirds of the way through the movie.  The nets that cast shadows over the room, the animal silhouettes in the corners, the sounds of anger and pain as the three men fight and one of the women looking on, deciding whether to use that gun or not, is a masterpiece of story advancement.  Things happen in this scene without words that take the plot, the characters and what they represent in entirely different directions.


John Alton lights the movie as well as any noir out there.  Raw Deal contains shots that feel like they could have come from an Orson Welles film and, in fact, film historian David Meyer favorably compared the movie’s look to Citizen Kane.  Remarkably, Bosley Crowther gave the film a negative notice upon its release and other critics followed with mixed feelings.  I’m not one to routinely dismiss Bosley Crowther, even as he is something of an easy target for modern cinephiles, a white elephant’s patron, if you will, because I actually think he, like almost every other critic in history, had great moments of insight as well as numerous occasions of movie blindness.  This would be one of them.   How Crowther could not see that this was a fantastic movie in the first ten minutes is, quite frankly, beyond my comprehension.  Raw Deal looks great and moves along in an uneasy advancement towards a doomed finale, the kind of doomed finale you know must come with any great noir.   It must be lamented that any noir this good, while lacking the kind of reputation afforded other noirs of far lesser quality, got a deal perfectly evoked by its very title.  A raw deal, indeed.

19 Responses Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal
Posted By LD : March 30, 2014 4:21 pm

This sounds like another must see noir. RAW DEAL (aka CORKSCREW ALLEY) will be shown on TCM May 23rd @ 5:15 p.m. (ET). My recorder will be set.

Posted By gregferrara : March 30, 2014 4:33 pm

Indeed it will. And, yes, it’s a must see noir. Just great.

Posted By Arthur : March 30, 2014 5:22 pm

I agree with everything you have said. This is a great, great film. One of the best.

Posted By Doug : March 30, 2014 6:53 pm

A while back here at Morlocks someone mentioned a book called “Solomon’s Vineyard” by Jonathan Latimer, holding it up as a great example of Noir.
I ordered the book, am nearly done with it and let me say that it is indeed a great read; imagine a grittier, more honest “The Big Sleep” which refuses to bow in the temple of the Hays code.
If such a story could have been filmed unadulterated in the 1940′s, I imagine that only Anthony Mann or John Huston could have made it work.
Thank you to the person who mentioned “Solomon’s Vineyard”-I’d thank you by name but I’m not even sure of the post on which it was noted. I encourage all who love Noir to seek it out.
“Raw Deal” looks like the real deal, and I look forward to someday seeing it. Those of us who do not have TCM make do as best we can.

Posted By Arthur : March 30, 2014 9:05 pm

Talk about comparisons. Claire Trevor plays a gun moll in both Key Largo and Raw Deal, both made in the same year. She was much better in Raw Deal because she was given more (or is it less) to work with. Key Largo seems loaded with artifice when compared to Raw Deal.

Posted By LD : March 30, 2014 10:12 pm

Have to admit I love Claire Trevor. Mostly because of STAGECOACH but also because of her performances in noir, especially MURDER, MY SWEET. BORN TO KILL predates KEY LARGO and RAW DEAL and I am looking forward to seeing her in the latter. I have to admit Lawrence Tierney, who is in BORN TO KILL, makes my blood run cold regardless if he is in a film or an episode of “Seinfeld”. A thank you to Angela Lansbury for one of Trevor’s latest performances in an episode of “Murder She Wrote”.

Posted By robbushblog : March 31, 2014 6:41 am

Raw Deal is great. I waited for years to see it, due to lack of access to it, and was not disappointed when I finally got to see it last year. For another Mann/Alton/Dennis O’Keefe noir work, check out T-Men. The cinematography in that one will blow you away. The stuff Alton does is so unique.

I recently saw Witness to Murder with Barbara Stanwyck, George Sanders and Gary Merrill. It was an efficient little programmer, but what did excel was Alton’s black and white cinematography.

Posted By kingrat : March 31, 2014 6:18 pm

Greg, thanks for the great write-up on RAW DEAL, which I fell in love with after seeing it on the big screen. Eddie Muller pointed out that this is one of the few times that the narration is done by the “bad girl” rather than by the hero.

You’ve picked some fine examples of John Alton’s wonderful cinematography.

Posted By heidi : April 1, 2014 4:22 pm

Can’t wait to see it. Will have it set to record so I don’t miss it. Sounds like a great film, thanks!

Posted By bj bradford : April 1, 2014 9:03 pm

Excellent post for an excellent film noir, enjoyed your review very much and heartily agree with your sentiments. I’m also a huge fan of Anthony Mann as well as of John Alton’s work, just watched THE PRETENDER the other day, another great example of his visual brilliance. I also discussed RAW DEAL in a blog on my site in July of last year in a piece entitled “To Be or Not To Be-Film Noir, That Is the Question”, a 3-part series that you might find interesting. If you get a chance please check it out. Thanks again!

Posted By Arthur : April 1, 2014 9:45 pm

Hope someone remembers to post a reminder on this link a few days before RAW DEAL plays again on May 23rd. Would love to read the reactions of those seeing it for the first time.

Posted By Richard Brandt : April 2, 2014 6:07 am

Just a year earlier, Mann directed one of the last PRC films, RAILROADED!, doing wonders with its bargain-basement budget. It’s a tough little picture about a decidedly ruthless bunch.

Posted By swac44 : April 2, 2014 12:58 pm

I’d never heard of John Alton until I caught the must-see cinematography documentary Visions of Light at the Toronto International Film Festival in the early ’90s (Haskell Wexler helped introduce the film, and Brian DePalma was sitting behind me, it was that kind of screening). It shows scenes from Alton’s films with Mann, as well as his masterwork The Big Combo, and the power of those shots was undeniable. Imagine my surprise when I saw that Alton also worked on the Technicolor fantasy of An American in Paris.

He was some kind of craftsman. Too bad that film is out of print (I snatched it up on laserdisc as soon as it surfaced), but you can get a Region 2 DVD from the British Film Institute. It’s worth it.

Posted By Harriet Craig : April 2, 2014 3:14 pm

If you don’t want to wait, Raw Deal looks like it is on You Tube

Posted By Doug : April 2, 2014 3:27 pm

swac44, a bit off topic, but as you had laserdisc I’m going to pester you if you don’t mind. Recognizing that the tube TV’s were far inferior to what we have now, how did the laserdisc movies look compared to VHS-was it a marked improvement? Do you still have the laserdisc machine hooked up to a flatscreen?
I’ve never seen a laserdisc movie, but I imagine it was pretty cool.
Thanks in advance!

Posted By swac44 : April 2, 2014 4:01 pm

Laserdiscs look fine on tube TVs, a big improvement over VHS, especially when it came to widescreen titles, which is what made them a hit among collectors. Also, the sound was vastly superior, and many laserdiscs still sound better than their DVD versions, with uncompressed digital sound, but that got better as mastering for DVD improved over time (as the discs also started to look better than their pixel-y pioneers). I still have a LD player, and two shelves full of discs, some titles, like Criterion editions of Swing Time, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, were never replicated in DVD form.

Image-wise, they can often have a fuzzy, or even washed-out look sometimes, but I suspect the manufacturers also didn’t want to overstep the limitations of the TVs that were available at the time. But the other day, I played an early-80s LD of Liza Minnelli in concert, and it looked and sounded fine, albeit with some of the speckley visual artifacts the early discs were prone to.

Posted By The Roundup: April 2, 2014 | The Frame : April 3, 2014 5:01 am

[…] Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal – Greg Ferrara takes a look at Anthony Mann’s noir Raw Deal, and makes me like it even more than I did before. […]

Posted By John S : April 3, 2014 8:02 pm

For those who can’t catch this on TCM or DVR it, it’s streaming on Netflix, as are a nice handful of other good films noir (as the academics say): “99 River Street,” “Crime of Passion” and the great “Scarlet Street.” No, I do not work for Netflix.

Posted By Arthur : May 19, 2014 1:21 am

This Friday, May 23, RAW DEAL will be aired on TCM at 5:15 in the afternoon. Would love to hear what first time viewers have to say!

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