Noir City 5: Day One
Raw Deal (1948, Dir. Anthony Mann)
Kid Glove Killer (1942, Dir. Fred Zinneman)
Special Guest: Marsha Hunt
Marsha Hunt torn between naughty Lee Bowman and nice Van Heflin
The San Francisco Film Noir Festival
Friday, January 26th-Sunday, February 4th, 2007
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco, CA
For a complete listing of the screenings go to:
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Noir City 5 opened with two films, Anthony Mann's Raw Deal (1948) (available on DVD from Roan Archival Group) and Fred Zinneman's Kid Glove Killer (1942) (never available on home video). The two films were probably doubled up because of their star, Marsh Hunt who appeared at the festival and commented on both films and her career. However, the pairing of these two films served another purpose; they illuminate the deepening and darkening of film noir over the course of its cycle, the shifting of the emphasis in film noir from the external to the internal.
Kid Glove Killer opens with the election of a new mayor who promises to clean up the city and smash the protection rackets bleeding the small business owners. What he doesn't know is that his right hand man, Gerald I. Ladimer, is in bed with the racketeers using his position with the mayor to shield the head of the racket in return for money and a promising political career. Ladimer arranges for the murder of the D.A. to prevent the exposure of the big boss, Matty. Later Ladimer kills the mayor with a homemade bomb. The film follows two forensics experts, Gordon McKay and his beautiful assistant Jane Mitchell (Marsha Hunt) as they investigate both murders. Here the audience is asked to identify with the investigators on their quest for justice. The audience identifies with the good guys and waits for the forces of right and reason to expose the criminal for the benefit of the little guy, represented by restaurant owner, Eddie Wright.
Six years later, audience identification shifts radically in Raw Deal from the investigators to the criminal and his accomplices. Here the film focuses on Joe who escapes from the penitentiary aided by the willing Pat and the seemingly unwilling Ann. The man hunting him down, Police Captain Fields has only a few scenes and absolutely no character development. The characters who concern us are not the protectors of law and order but the ones who threaten it. Both films feature a love triangle; in Kid Glove Killer Jane is torn between the secretly criminal Ladimer and the upright McKay and in Raw Deal Joe is torn between "bad girl" Pat and "good girl" Ann.
These two love triangles illustrate profoundly the shift in film noir from external concerns to internal concerns and in doing so the how the genre moved from light tales of the forces of good triumphing over evil to complex stories dealing with people who struggle with the good and evil within themselves and even the question of what is right and what is wrong. In Kid Glove Killer, the triangle remains strictly surface, there's no real suspense in the question of who Jane will wind up with, once Ladimer is exposed, the audience knows she'll wind up in the arms of McKay. The focus here is on his exposure as the bad guy. On the other hand, in Raw Deal, Ann knows that Joe is a criminal but she sees the good in him, the heart of gold. Here the suspense centers around who will Joe pick the good girl or the bad girl and more importantly what way of life will he choose?
This is where things get complicated. In Kid Glove Killer Jane secretly wants to marry her boss, but agrees to marry Ladimer since he is ambitious and actually expresses interest in her. Later when she comes back to the lab after Ladimer's exposure as the criminal and the racket's been busted up; McKay breaks down and proposes to her. Her mission is accomplished; she is married and can give up the career she hates for the career she wants: Wife. In Raw Deal the criminal Joe actually starts to buy into the same suburban dream. Oddly when he chooses "bad girl" Pat he is choosing to be a husband and father (granted as an escaped criminal living in Panama). Pat is at first overjoyed by his decision, but guilt and more importantly, an understanding that she wins him only by default, drives her to tell him the truth that Ann is being held by his psychotic boss in an effort to force Joe out of hiding and be killed.
So here the externally "bad girl", Pat a gangsters moll from the wrong side of the tracks, is actually the "good girl". She is lovingly devoted to Joe and if he chooses to go with her to Panama, Joe can live out life as a husband and father leaving behind his life of crime. She is a fresh start, hope and ultimately more of a Madonna figure than Ann. Ann, externally the "good girl", a woman who struggled along, playing by the rules, to build a humble but morally upright life for herself, ultimately becomes the "bad girl". Her love for Joe and his for her is sexually charged in a way that it isn't with Pat. When he chooses to act on his love for her he ultimately chooses self destruction. He dies in her arms. His decision is an immediate impulse as opposed to the lengthy rationalization he employees to talk himself into staying with Pat. His passionate love for the "good girl" has destroyed him as surely as if he's fallen for a femme fatale. Both women are left heartbroken. Pat must face both the death of her loved one and the realization that he preferred to die in another woman's arms then to live in hers. Ann loses her lover, has to live with being the one who drove him to his destruction and has to live knowing that she was not the girl she thought she was. This is a far cry from Jane's game of musical fiancees.
Ultimately, the pairing of Kid Glove Killer and Raw Deal illustrates clearly how film noir moved away from a simple world view to a highly complex one. The move from the American Dream of a stable society, where the bad guy is exposed, the hero wins the heroine and they live happily ever after to a shadowy underworld, where the whole notion of good and bad is questioned and there is no happily ever after, just existential angst or death.