“Raw Deal,” a 1949 movie directed by Anthony Mann, starts off at a prison and then becomes fast-paced chase film with interesting scenery, good visual effects and suspicious characters. It stars Dennis O’Keefe as Joe Sullivan, a man in prison taking the rap for a sadistic gangster named Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr). He receives a visit in prison from pretty legal assistant Ann Martin, who thinks she can secure a parole for him in 3 years. Joe wants out of prison so he can “breathe the fresh air,” but he’s not waiting 3 years to do it.
Although Ann feels romantic towards Joe, his real girlfriend, Pat Cameron (Claire Trevor), sits in the prison waiting room to see him. She narrates over this and other scenes, setting up her suspicion and distrust of Ann. When Pat finally does see Joe, she tells him the prison break is on. In the next scene, Pat waits and picks up Joe after he’s climbed the prison wall and jumped into her car. The couple head to Ann Martin’s apartment, where they kidnap her and take her car. Although the police continue to chase them, the film concentrates on the love triangle between Joe, Pat and Ann. Ann wants Joe to turn himself in, while Pat’s love for Joe compels her to play out their escape to the end.
Perhaps because the police chase occurs in such a wide geographical area, the police don’t do a very good job of tracking Joe down. A lot of time and tense situations occur while the “lamsters” sort out their relationships. The script gives several opportunities for Ann to turn in her abductors in, but various circumstances keep her from doing it. Ann remains both disgusted by Joe’s behavior and drawn to him, which continually irks Pat. Each of the three make one pivotal decision in the film, and these seem realistic and within their character traits.
The movie stands as compelling film noir with strong and individualistic primary and secondary characters. For instance, John Ireland plays a Coyle henchman named Fantail, who seems much smarter than the usual second-tier thug. The climax involves a showdown with the sadistic Rick Coyle, who owes Joe $50,000. Coyle likes fire, and shows it by flicking his lighter under a henchman’s ear early in the film. The plot makes it clear early on that Coyle only wanted Joe to escape so that he would get shot by the police. The tense ending includes scenes shot in a foggy San Francisco street called “Corkscrew Alley.” Mann shoots these scenes and the climactic ending beautifully, with eerie sounding music using a theremin.