Raw Deal (UK) (DVD)
2008 promises to be the Summer of Arn, as two of his biggest titles, Total Recall and Terminator 2 come to UK Bluray. To add to the overload, Optimum are also re-releasing four of his memorable titles on DVD, Total Recall, Red Sonja, Raw Deal and Red Heat, both individually and in boxset form. All four titles have previously been released by Momentum, and their boxset is still available, but Optimum are offering something new with one of these titles, which may make the double or in the case of Total Recall, triple dip worthwhile.
Raw Deal is an odd one for me. In my appreciation of the eighties Arnie cheesiness that informed a lot of my home video choices, Raw Deal seemed like the odd cousin, the one left out. To this day it is the one Arnie film that I forget to watch, as there is something about it that puts me off. Perhaps it's the grimy Chicago city locations, perhaps it's the mafia storyline, or perhaps it was just the way it was sold, "No one gives Schwarzenegger a Raw Deal", that always made me feel that it should have been a Stallone vehicle. Arnold belongs in fantasy, sci-fi, or glossy action movies. Anything that threatens realism just doesn't seem right. And Raw Deal on the surface just seems too gritty. Then I watched it…
When the mafia kills Harry Shannon's son, Harry swears revenge. Blair Shannon was part of an FBI team that was protecting a key witness in the Patrovita trial, and it's Patrovita that ordered the hit. The trouble is that there is a mole in the FBI, someone is leaking key information to Patrovita's group and anyone who tries to get close is wasted. Harry needs help from outside the bureau. Mark Kaminsky was an FBI agent, until he was forced to resign for getting a little physical with a suspect. Now working as a Sheriff in a small town, he's practically in exile. Old friend Harry offers a chance at redemption. He wants Mark's help in destroying Patrovita's operation. So Mark fakes his own death, greases back his hair, and goes undercover as a small time criminal looking to move up in the world. When he gets involved in a gang war that is developing between Patrovita and his rival Lamanski, he's on the fast track to Patrovita's inner circle.
A 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that is very easy on the eyes. Detail levels are good and the image is clear and sharp throughout, excepting the high level of grain that was common to films of the period. There is the occasional softness, maybe a hint of moiré, but you'll have to look for it to find it.
Just a DD 2.0 English stereo track which does the job. It's a little dull and lacks dynamism, but Arnie's one-liners come through clear enough. There are a couple of mumbling Mafioso whose contributions pass me by, but Optimum's disc once again ditches the subtitles.
The lack of subtitles is unforgivable, rendering this practically a VHS tape albeit with a nice picture. The most basic selling point of the DVD format is the optional subtitle track, and as I have grown older, it's become clear to me how essential it is. With an aging population, and more and more neighbours intolerant of that DTS home cinema set up, you need them more than ever. If subtitles are a necessity for you, then look up the old Momentum release of this film, which has them, before it is deleted.
Scarface it ain't! Think Commando versus the Mafia and you'll know exactly what to expect from this film. This time he's a former FBI agent, and the wrong he has to avenge is the death of his friend's son (it isn't exactly as pressing as a kidnapped daughter though), so once again he drops everything and heads off to take on the villains. It's the same path to action orgasm. We get 90 minutes of foreplay, where he takes on various heavies in minor confrontations, and then, after a gratuitous dressing scene set to a rock soundtrack (it was combat gear and black eyeliner in Commando, here it's leather and automatic weapons), he goes on the rampage trying to up the body count world record, and loads of extras get to do the dance of death while being riddled with bullets. And along the way, with get some of the worst one-liners ever committed to celluloid, "Don't drink and bake!" indeed…
I guess the quality of his cast members marks the progression in his career. Rae Dawn Chong may have been entertaining eye-candy, Dan Hedaya a scenery-chewing villain, but Vernon Wells was as camp as Christmas as Bennett. Here we get Darren McGavin as his mentor Shannon, Robert Davi as a mafia hood who sees competition in Arnie, and even though Sam Wanamaker is obviously slumming it as Patrovita, he's still a class act. There is definitely a development in terms of quality visible.
But I don't like Raw Deal as much, primarily because it is practically a remake, but also because it doesn't feel as much fun. It's betwixt and between, uncertain if it is an out and out cheesefest or if there is something more to it than the comedy mafia replete with clichés and stereotypes. While practically every other Arnie movie that I have enjoyed has its talking points and memorable moments, awesome stunts or landmark excretions of dialogue, all that I come away from Raw Deal with is that Arnie smokes a cigar like a hyperthyroid George Burns. Say goodnight Gracie…