Thursday, June 4, 2015

Guest Review – A Day in the Life of Dennis O’Keefe: Raw Deal (1948), The Fake (1953) and The Diamond Wizard (1954)

By Philip Schweier

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I took the time to watch a trio of crime thrillers, all starring Dennis O’Keefe. O’Keefe was a minor leading man in Hollywood who started out as an extra in the early days of talkies. He climbed through the ranks, also appearing on radio, and transitioned into television in the 1950s and ‘60s.

First of the films that I watched was Raw Deal (1948), in which he co-starred with Claire Trevor. O’Keefe plays Joe Sullivan, serving a stretch in prison on behalf of crime boss Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr). Coyle arranges to bust Joe out, but only in the hope that Joe gets gunned down by the authorities. Joe’s girl, Pat Cameron (Trevor), is waiting with the getaway car ready. With the cops hot on their heels, Joe and Pat head to the apartment of Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt), who works for the law firm working on Joe’s release. It seems Ann has developed a bit of a crush, and Joe intends to use it as leverage for help in getting out of town.

Traveling with two women enables Joe to squeak past the law and head for Crescent City, where he expects to meet up with Coyle, receive $50,000 that he’s owed, and head to South America. But Pat quickly notices Anne’s growing attachment, and begins to wonder how loyal her criminal boyfriend really is.

The film features a number of narrow brushes with the law, as well as a young Whit Bissel as the subject of a separate manhunt. Realizing he’s been betrayed, Joe decides to settle his score with Coyle before leaving the country.

Raymond Burr plays the part of crime boss Coyle to perfection. His sadistic nature slowly gives way to growing paranoia, as he fears Joe come gunning for him. Between Coyle’s growing anxiety, and Pat’s increasing jealousy, the film is an emotional thriller leading the audience to wonder how matters will eventually resolve themselves.

In The Fake (1953), O’Keefe is on the right side of the law, playing insurance investigator Paul Mitchell, who has been assigned to protect a masterpiece of art by da Vinci while it is on loan to London’s Tate Gallery. There, he meets Mary Mason (Coleen Gray), the daughter of an impoverished painter.

The da Vinci is under scrutiny due to the thefts of two other paintings, both of which were replaced by forgeries. Mitchell follows one lead after another as attempts are made to steal the da Vinci, beginning at its arrival in England. Meanwhile, he also continues to pursue Mary Mason. This romantic endeavor that is complicated when it appears her father may be involved in the art thefts.

As capers go, it’s enjoyable without trying too hard to be more than it is. It hardly ranks high on anyone’s list of mysteries, especially when one stunningly obvious clue seems to escape the notice of Mitchell and his cohorts. But it benefits from having been filmed on location in London at the Tate Gallery. Also, segments of Mussorgsky's “Pictures At An Exhibition" are used for the musical score, providing not only irony but a cheap source for music cues.

O’Keefe is once again in jolly old England for The Diamond Wizard (1954), this time as U.S. Treasury Agent Joe Dennison. He’s trailed a gang of thieves who’ve stolen a million dollars from a U.S. Treasury vault. Upon arrival, he discovers his case intersects with that of Scotland Yard Inspector McClaren (Philip Friend), who is investigating the disappearance of Dr. Eric Miller (Paul Hardtmuth), an atomic scientist. They compare notes, and Dennison discovers Miller has secretly been creating bogus diamonds, either willingly or under coercion. Their combined investigation evolves into a police procedural, as Dennison adapts his American methods to British sensibilities, while he and McClaren compete for the affections of Dr. Miller’s daughter, Marline (Margaret Sheridan).

Both The Fake and The Diamond Wizard were produced by British studios (Pax Films and Gibraltar Films, respectively), though perhaps due to its American leads, they have a more American tone. According to the IMDB, O’Keefe is credited as co-director on the Diamond Wizard, and co-authored the script under the pen-name Jonathan Rix.

While none of O’Keefe’s films stand out as exceptional thrillers or film noir, they’re pleasant diversions for those that haven’t seen them before.


Caftan Woman said...

You've made a lot of women happy in one fell swoop. O'Keefe has quite the following among some gals I know.

Rick29 said...

I love Anthony Mann's Westerns, but wasn't sure what to expect when I first saw RAW DEAL. But it blew me away. Yes, Raymond Burr is one of the all-time great villains--his scene in the restaurant is a real shocker.

grouchomarxist said...

There are three things that make Raw Deal a particular standout among these films.

In no particular order:

John Alton's cinematography
Claire Trevor
Raymond Burr (Face-full of flaming crepes, anyone? Yeesh.)

I know I've said this before, but since one of my earliest TV memories is of Perry Mason, it was a real shock to me to find that Burr was typecast as a heavy in so many 50s' B-films. And he was a damned good one, too. (Which I'm sure is why he was typecast.)

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