Raw Deal (Anthony Mann / U.S., 1948):

The fugitive and the moll and "Miss Law and Order," an oneiric construction. This is where John Alton’s thorough spatial studies in T-Men come into play, the convict (Dennis O’Keefe) and the lawyer’s aide (Marsha Hunt) sit across from each other in a visiting room divided by wide-angle diagonals, just the cavernous yet suffocating deep-focus Anthony Mann needs. The criminal was once a boy who earned a medal for heroism, whatever happened to him? "He pawned the medal because he was hungry," says O’Keeffe, who breaks out of prison and drags Hunt along with the cops close behind. The camera tilts down to a light post in Corkscrew Alley and pans left to a penthouse engulfed by San Francisco mist, the racketeer (Raymond Burr) who railroaded the protagonist seethes coolly while his torpedo (John Ireland) plays with a collapsing house of cards. At the center is Claire Trevor’s tenderly hardboiled rendition of an underworld gal Friday running out of time, "waiting, waiting, always waiting" while the lug she loves falls instead for the idealistic counselor they’ve taken hostage. Quai des Brumes might be the model, only here fatalistic poetry is ringed with the threat of horrific violence: A bowl of flaming brandy is hurled at the lenses to register the fate of an unlucky party girl ("She should’ve been more careful," snarls Burr over her screams), the deer antlers mounted on a wall become an impaling weapon during a scuffle in a taxidermist's shop. (Lang and Hitchcock took note, respectively.) Men brawl amidst flames in this tremendous, sinewy noir, but the real story lies in Trevor’s doleful inner struggle. Shivering behind a veil, her profile set against the heavy ticking of a clock, she listens to her beloved babbling about new beginnings while her rival is being tortured somewhere -- a tangle of desire and guilt pointing the way to the redemptive inferno. In Mann's city, the "breath of fresh air" the antiheroes long for is really their last. With Curt Conway, Chili Williams, Richard Fraser, and Whit Bissell. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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