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Not-to-Miss Noir

July 20, 2010

by John Farr

John Farr ventures into darkness with three gritty noirs you may have overlooked.


Raw Deal (1948)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Framed for a crime he didn’t commit by mob boss Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr), tough-talking gangster Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe) breaks out of prison with the help of his gutsy gal, Pat (Claire Trevor). Needing a hostage in case the cops manage to track him down, Joe kidnaps his kindly social worker, Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt), and sets off to seek revenge on Coyle and his men.

WHY I LOVE IT:

This hard-as-nails potboiler was made for pennies at a Poverty Row studio by Mann and his legendary cinematographer, John Alton. Like the very best films in this genre, there’s plenty of raw dialogue, heart-fluttering suspense, and a square-jawed tough guy who isn’t afraid to blast away at his nemeses. But the sizzling love triangle that develops between Joe, Pat, and Ann is a perversely clever plot twist that contributes much to the fatalistic tone, with Trevor’s cold-hearted voiceover to top it all off. Burr’s turn as the brutal Coyle (watch out for that fruit flambeé!) is especially nasty. If you’re in the market for a visceral thriller, put your money on “Raw Deal.”


The Narrow Margin (1952)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Tough-talking LA detective Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) arrives in Chicago to escort a cynical mobster’s wife (Marie Windsor) to a California grand jury, where she plans to testify against her estranged husband. The mafia has other plans for Mrs. Neall-namely, to rub her out. After his partner is gunned down leaving Neall’s apartment, Brown is on high alert, and must outwit a team of gangsters who follow them onto a sleeper train but seem to have no idea what their female target looks like.

WHY I LOVE IT:

A smart, edge-of-your-seat thriller set almost entirely on a West Coast-bound train, “Margin” captivates thanks to its many sudden plot twists and ingenious central tension: Brown doesn’t know which of the men on-board is a gangster, and the hit men don’t know which of the female passengers to bump off. McGraw’s gritty, hardboiled cop and Windsor’s catty moll play off each other extremely well, and portly actor Paul Maxey adds a bit of mystique as an irritating, perhaps devious passenger. Snappy dialogue, crisp pacing, and even-handed direction keep Fleischer’s “Margin” flying like a bullet. Infinitely better than the 1990 remake.


Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) picks up a female hitch-hiker in trouble one night, eventually loses her, and when she winds up dead, resolves to investigate. The twisty trail eventually leads him to an oily gangster (Paul Stewart) and a duplicitous scientist (Albert Dekker). The trail of mysteries eventually leads to the contents of a stolen box which Hammer’s secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) describes as “The Great Whatsit.” All bets are off as the film builds to its climax.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Aldrich comes close to noir perfection with “Kiss Me Deadly”, transferring the pulp flavor of Mickey Spillane’s books to the screen. Spillane’s battered hero represents the true noir protagonist, devoid of pretension or romance, and Meeker is ideally suited for the role. Hammer’s fundamental concern is his own-and his client’s-survival, and there’s plenty to be concerned about. Ahead of its time when released, “Deadly” is a tense, thrilling masterpiece of Cold War paranoia paranoia. (Watch closely for a young Cloris Leachman in her film debut.)


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  • comments (0)
  • rayban

    “D.O.A.” is really a great example of a cheaply-made, but still superb film noir. Another great example of a cheaply-made, but still superb film noir, is “The Couch”, with Grant Williams.