From Studiocanal is this release of 1986’s John Irvin actioner Raw Deal, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. To put this into context of his acting career as a whole, Arnold had already made The Terminator, and Commando, but had yet to produce, Predator, Total Recall or Terminator 2. He was already a movie star, but not quite the phenomenon he would find himself a couple of years later. British director John Irvin was a known quantity, with his Alec Guinness-starring Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy having drawn excellent reviews in the 1970s, but his acclaimed Vietnam film Hamburger Hill yet to be produced. As a result, this is probably a smaller film – and release – than might be anticipated when considering the leading man.
The film begins with an ambush of a mob informant being held under witness protection in a remote woodland cabin. With the target killed, collateral damage includes the agents guarding him, including Blair Shannon, son of FBI Agent Harry Shannon (Darren McGavin). Harry vows revenge, and seeks out former agent Mark Kaminski (Schwarzenegger), who is now working as a sheriff in a small town, after being fired for the brutal beating of a suspect who murdered a young girl. Living in a difficult marriage with his wife Amy (Blanche Baker) a woman seemingly suffering with a drinking problem, Mark is open to working for Harry – off the books, as the leak causing the ambush appears to have come from within the FBI – to bring down the criminal gang responsible, a Chicago outfit led by Luigi Patrovita (Sam Wanamaker) and supported by Max Keller (Robert Davi).
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Faking his own death in an explosion at a chemical plant, Mark poses as convicted felon Joseph Brenner, and convinces another of Patrovita’s lieutenants, Paulo Rocca (Paul Shenar), of his worthiness to be hired into the organisation by harassing members of a rival mob boss. Making the acquaintance of one of Keller’s employees, Monique (Kathryn Harrold) he soon finds himself well-ensconced in the firm but has Max’s back up by getting close to a woman he has long had his eye on.
As he works his way in, recovering millions seized by the FBI, and assisting in the murder of the rival boss, he finds his position at risk, as Keller is looking into the true identity of the new recruit, fearing that they have a mole in their ranks. In a race against time to avoid Harry’s murder, and to complete his mission before he is uncovered and killed, Mark will need to go on an urgent, violent mission to bring down the mob boss and his lieutenants, whilst uncovering the identity of the FBI leak that caused the murder of his friend’s son in the first place.
Raw Deal is a Dino De Laurentis product, leading to further confusion at the outset as to the level of quality that will be on offer. For every Manhunter or Blue Velvet coming from his company, there was a King Kong Lives or Earth Girls are Easy. It is fair to say that Raw Deal falls into the latter category, even with such venerated participants as Sam Wanamaker was by this point, in an era where he was taking part in such classics as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
This film was produced for under $10 million, and it shows. A cheap-sounding, generic score from Chris Boardman (not the cyclist, but not worthy of a Wikipedia entry either) supports a very boilerplate actioner, elevated by a surprisingly charismatic performance, laced with trademark humour, from a young-looking Schwarzenegger. As a film, it is for eighties actioner or Arnold completists only. As an entry point to his work, or that of the director, there are endless better options out there. On this release, the picture quality is fine, but despite a full restoration it wears that slightly over exposed grainy quality common to eighties films stock, though there are very good sound options, with 5.1 or stereo tracks available in English, French or German.
Extras are slight. Along with the standard trailer, there are two relatively short features. ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Man who raised Hollywood’ runs to around 16 minutes and takes a relatively scattergun look at his eighties output, featuring contributions from such figures as Arthur Allan Seidelman, director of Arnold’s first full-fledged Hollywood entry, Hercules in New York, where he was both over-dubbed, and credited as ‘Arnold Strong’. It gives little insight other than to reiterate his work ethic, and mental strength to overcome constant resistance to an Austrian man with dubious English seeking to be a leading player in the film industry.
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The final extra is something of a curio, as it is one of the few features ever put to a release to begin from the perspective that the work it is dealing with is not actually particularly good. ‘Raw Deal – A Generic Gangster film’ is a near-9-minute-long interview with Dave Saunders, author of ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Movies’ where he takes his full screen time explaining why this is such a poor generic film. Honestly, the only bonus feature that comes to mind that is anything like this in tone is Mark Rosenthal’s commentary track for the aforementioned Superman IV, where he spent the full 90-minutes talking about what a disaster it was and switching effortlessly between apology and making excuses for the final product.
To be fair, this is an appropriate – if unexpectedly honest – appraisal of a film that is fun enough to watch, with moments of humour that we cannot be entirely sure were deliberate, but lacks anything making it stand out from any number of mob/revenge/action films of the era that took advantage of more permissive standards to produce violent content without being in anyway unique. Raw Deal is watchable, but it would have to be regarded near the very bottom, in terms of quality, of output coming from Arnold’s peak years.
Raw Deal is out on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K UHD on 24th October from Studiocanal.