First printed Friday, November 11, 2005
If you remember hm at all, you remember him under his stage name Dennis O'Keefe. He spent much of his career being called the road show Cary Grant. He was handsome enough, I suppose but he lacked Grant's ease with himself. He was a tall lanky troubled Mick whom you could easily imagine had a taste for the bourbon. And a few punches thrown in the parking lot after a night's imbibing.
I thought of him today because by accident I picked up an old copy of Mystery Scene that carried a two page list of overlooked but memorable noirs. O'Keefe a/k/a Bud Flannagan appeared in four of twenty of them.
Iowans were always curious about him because he grew up here. He survived his first decade in Hwood by doing just about everything, writing, dancing, directing plays at various small L.A. Theatres. His break came when he started doing the Grant-influenced stuff in what proved to be about two decades worth of B-movies, most of them comedies that won him excellent reviews and a decent living. He was an affable, even occasionally silly screen presence just like Grant but there wa always that hint of anger he couldn't quite hide even when he played it as simple frustration.
He never broke through, though he had a season of starring in his own TV sit-com and doing third billed roles in a few A pictures.
What he is remembered for by cult devotees today are his film noirs, especially the two directed by Anthony Mann. An unpopular confession here--despite O'Keefe's excellent performance, T-Men has always seemed tedious to me. I can admire what Mann did with it but somehow it never catches fire for me.
Raw Deal, on the other hand, is in my top ten noirs. O'Keefe is older, heavier and meaner. He seems more comfortable in this part than any I've ever seen him in. He's not a typical bad guy--he's dangerous in the Lawrence Tierney way (speaking of Mick drunks). And Mann plays him off beautifully against the women who love him--the good woman (Marsha Hunt) and the floozy (Claire Trevor)--in exemplary style.
Mann has never used his B-movie stock company better. Here you find Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt, John Ireland and Raymond Burr giving ruthless performances. But the movie is driven by the reckless, obsessive rage of O'Keefe. His IMBD credits list runs to seven pages--a long, long career. But this is the best of his career.
The reviewer for IMBD liked the film as much as I do:
Folks can go on and on about a visual style. The fact is, RAW DEAL exemplifies more than just an atmosphere. There's a catalyst for horrific violence driven by the desperation of the characters, their psychosis and their inability to escape from the choking shadows not only around them, but inside their heads. This movie, a cheap b-production with only one actor with stand-out talent, Claire Trevor, and a young powerful Raymond Burr, manages to seem authentic all the way through because it doesn't hold back on the violence or the threat of violence. There's a desperate prison escape, by hero O'Keefe, who's trying to get to Burr the crime boss, for whom he took a fall. Burr wants O'Keefe dead so he doesn't have to worry about O'Keefe ratting on him. O'Keefe uses two women he knows, his floozy Trevor and the good-girl counselor he really loves (she's cast in light and draws him like a moth) as cover. The movie then follows O'Keefe as he does a mini-FUGITIVE, like the television show, making love to his women and encountering a raging lunatic in the woods who doesn't have anything to do with him, but might get O'Keefe caught anyway by swarming police on the hunt for the maniac.
In this rough noir, you get a suicide by cop, a guy fighting not to get his face impaled on a set of wall antlers, a flaming friccasee thrown in a drunk woman's face, a nasty deception and the good girl getting tortured, and a bloody final encounter between psycho Burr and O'Keefe, with plenty of face-ripping and falling from burning buildings. That's not standard stuff, and if you can get into babe Trevor with light shimmering on her lips as she tries to figure out how to save her thug O'Keefe from the police, Burr, and the younger angel ready to steal him away, then you will enjoy hell out of this film.
posted by Gormania at 4:18 PM 1 comments