It’s looking as though most of my posts for the Noirvember Challenge will go up well after the end of the month, but I’m just about wrapped up with viewing for the month. Look for posts on The Long Goodbye (1973), They Made Me A Fugitive (1947), Call Northside 777 (1948), and 99 River Street (1953) over the next few days. For now, here are two reviews for Cage of Evil (1960) and Raw Deal (1948)…
In Cage of Evil, a police detective, Scott Harper, is assigned to monitor Holly Taylor, the girlfriend of a gangster suspected of stealing over $250,000 worth of uncut diamonds. She doesn’t initially know that he’s a cop, and they fall in love within what seems like minutes. It isn’t long before they hatch a plan to get the diamonds for themselves. Soon, the theft charge is bumped to a murder case when one of the jewelry store employees dies from wounds inflicted, and the whole tale spins tighter into a tense little ball.
For being a film with a running time of just 70 minutes, Cage of Evil never feels too short, although some early scenes actually seem to go on much longer than they need to. Once Scott and Holly have a deadly run-in with her gangster boyfriend and Scott’s partner on the force, the film really picks up the pace, and there are several moments of genuine tension as the noose tightens around them both. One scene in particular, where our two leads avoid getting caught in a stakeout situation, shows them driving away after Scott lies to fellow police officers under the premise of taking Holly back to the airport to accompany her home. As they drive away, a car seems to be tailing them while they obliviously prattle on about their plans to take the diamonds to Mexico. The car gets right up to their back bumper at a stop, but no siren goes on and no one gets out. This was likely unintentional on the filmmakers’ part, given that it’s rear-projected footage and likely stock footage at that, but it certainly stopped my heart for a moment.
Scott and Holly’s plan hinge on them getting to Mexico safely, but also getting through customs with all those uncut stones. The final scene with them at the airport plays out in an act of desperation in a hail of bullets, and while the film wraps up pretty quickly after that, it left me fairly breathless. While Cage of Evil wasn’t by any stretch a perfect film, it certainly is something I would watch again. It isn’t relentless, but it’s certainly well-executed.
Raw Deal (1948), from director Anthony Mann and starring Claire Trevor (Stagecoach), has a different take on film noir, mainly in that it’s from a woman’s perspective. Trevor plays Pat, who breaks her boyfriend Joe out of jail, not knowing that the break-out is a set-up by mob boss Rick (a terrific Raymond Burr, sadistic as hell here). Rick owes Joe $50,000 from an unspecified crime where Joe was the fall guy, but since Joe was supposed to die in the break-out, he sends his goons after our protagonist.
This is another noir film with a love triangle as a prominent part of the story. Here, Pat is willing to do anything for her man, but Joe has become attached to Ann, a social worker who has been trying to reform Joe during his jail time. The two women vie for Joe’s attention, with Pat having the most understanding of Joe’s criminal past and Ann seeing a bright future for him. As they go on the run together, Joe begins to question his feelings for Pat, and eventually begins believing what Ann has told him about being a good person, that he can change for the better.
The dichotomy of the two women starts out as fairly clear-cut: Pat as a tough criminal moll and Ann as the sweet innocent. However, this line begins to blur as Raw Deal progresses – at one point, Ann shoots one of Rick’s henchmen in an attempt to save Joe, and Pat’s hard exterior begins to soften when she realizes that Joe’s attention is being directed elsewhere. However, the film largely belongs to Pat, given that she provides the narration. Ultimately, this is her story.
Raw Deal greatly benefits from an outstanding cast and a well-written story that occasionally dips into melodrama, but its most striking aspect is John Alton’s cinematography. Shadows loom heavy here and there are several artistic shots of individual characters isolated from the rest of the cast. Alton often places the camera at a low angle, making big Raymond Burr seem even larger and more intimidating. Along with Double Indemnity, this is one of the best-made noirs from the Challenge so far and one that I’d easily recommend to classic movie fans.