Noir Nook: Bad Guy Burr

Noir Nook: Bad Guy Burr

Raymond Burr HeadshotRaymond Burr

Raymond Burr may be beloved to millions as the wily defense attorney in Perry Mason or the indefatigable, wheelchair-bound detective in Ironside – but to me, he was behind some of noir’s most memorable bad guys. This month’s Noir Nook takes a look at five nefarious ne’er-go-wells that Burr so superbly brought to life.

steve brodie and raymond burr desperateRaymond Burr (as Walt Radak) and Steve Brodie in Desperate (1947).

Walt Radak in Desperate (1947)
Directed by Anthony Mann, this film stars Steve Brodie as Steven Randall, a truck-driving family man who gets duped into hauling a load of stolen goods by an old childhood chum, Burr’s Walt Radak. Unfortunately for all concerned, Radak’s best laid lawless plans go awry, resulting in the murder of a policeman and Walt’s kid brother, Al, charged with the crime. Blaming Randall for his brother’s arrest and ultimate conviction, Radak tracks the trucker and his pregnant wife across the country, determined to exact revenge at the precise moment of his brother’s execution.

Favorite Burr quote: “I don’t care what you tell them, but if Al doesn’t walk out of that police station by midnight, your wife ain’t gonna be so good to look at!”


Raymond Burr as Mack MacDonald in Pitfall (1948)Raymond Burr (as Mack MacDonald) in Pitfall (1948).

Mack MacDonald in Pitfall (1948)
Dead-eyed and uber-creepy, Burr here plays an insurance investigator who only has eyes for whiskey-voice model Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott). Mack first encounters Mona after finding $4,000 worth of stolen goods at her apartment, but he instantly develops a crush on the hapless girl, hounding her like a cheetah stalking a gazelle. He pops up at her job, waits outside her apartment – he’s like a psychotic bad penny. And he’s not only a menace to her, but to her married lover and her boyfriend embezzler, too!

Favorite Burr quote: “She’s a little coy, that’s all. But once she gets used to me, we’ll make a great team.” (Ew.)


Raymond Burr as Rick Coyle in Raw Deal (1948)Raymond Burr (as Rick Coyle), John Ireland and Marsha Hunt in Raw Deal (1948).

Rick Coyle in Raw Deal (1948)
In Raw Deal, Burr’s Rick Coyle is a sadistic mob boss whose underlying, Joe Sullivan (Dennis O’Keefe) is imprisoned for a crime that was actually committed by Coyle. When he suspects that Sullivan might squeal on him to the D.A., Coyle helps him to break out of prison – but his motivation is far from noble. His plan is for Sullivan to be killed during the escape, and when this scheme fails, Coyle unleashes his henchmen in an effort to track him down and murder him.

Favorite Burr quote: “He was screaming he wanted out. When a man screams, I don’t like it. Especially a friend. He might scream loud enough for the D.A. to hear.”


Raymond Burr as Nick Ferrano in His Kind of Woman (1951)Raymond Burr (as Nick Ferrano) in His Kind of Woman (1951).

Nick Ferraro in His Kind of Woman (1951)
In this film, Burr plays a syndicate boss who’s been exiled to Italy. In an effort to return to the states and resume his former status, Ferraro comes up with an elaborate plan to murder and assume the identity of professional gambler Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum). Throughout this often-campy feature, Burr’s Ferraro functions with single-minded cruelty and complete ruthlessness, orchestrating the torture and beating of the gambler and bumping off a federal immigration official who gets wind of his scheme. Not a nice guy.

Favorite Burr quote: “I want him to be fully conscious. I don’t like to shoot a corpse. I want to see the expression on his face when he knows it’s coming.”


Raymond Burr as Harry Prebble in The Blue Gardenia (1953)Raymond Burr (as Harry Prebble) and Anne Baxter in The Blue Gardenia (1953).

Harry Prebble in The Blue Gardenia (1953)
Burr is a complete slimeball in this one, playing a smooth ladies’ man who has a chance encounter with switchboard operator Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter) just minutes after she learns that she’s been dumped by her long-distance serviceman beau. Turning on the full force of his sleazy charm, Harry invites Norah to his favorite restaurant, plies her with drinks (Polynesian Pearl Divers!), then takes her to his house where he tries to put the moves on her. And that’s putting it mildly.

Favorite Burr quote: “How about you slip into something more comfortable, like a few drinks and some Chinese food?”


If you’ve never seen Raymond Burr in one of his “bad guy” roles, do yourself a favor and check him in one (or more) of these. You’ll never look at Perry Mason the same again!

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:


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18 Responses to Noir Nook: Bad Guy Burr

  1. Vienna says:

    Isn’t it utterly amazing that he became the great Perry Mason, champion of the law.
    He was such a great villain. Love your quotes.

  2. Gloria Elizabeth says:

    I especially love THE BLUE GARDENIA, for its out-of-usual-bounds drunken black-out by a “nice girl”, its super-typical 50’s bachelor seduction pad (complete with jazz on the stereo), Burr’s Uber-wolf, and, yes, the Polynesian Pearl Divers, to my mind the most weirdly compelling name for a cocktail ever.
    Burr did make a u-turn into extreme rectitude after these rides on the dark side but it parallels one made by the character Perry Mason. I was raised on the Burr TV Mason so I was astonished when I began reading the early original novels. The earliest Gardner novels portray Mason as playing fast and loose with legal ethics and civil rights. He breaks into people’s offices, plants evidence, lies to trap people, but it’s supposed to be okay because all his clients are innocent.
    Thanks for reminding me of how much I enjoy Burr’s stony evil, safely framed on a screen.

  3. When I showed my daughter Rear Window for the first time, she asked “Are you sure that’s the Chief?” Good guy Burr made as much of an impression as bad guy Burr. He certainly knew his stuff. So do you.

  4. Steven Chaput says:

    Great article. I think a lot of folks aren’t familiar with the length of Burr’s career, either in film or earlier in radio. Amazing how many Old Time Radio programs I listen to where Burr will make an appearance either as a regular or guest.

    I’ll have to search out a couple of these films.

  5. Great post, Karen! I remember watching Perry Mason as a kid, then getting into film noir, being shocked at how nasty Burr’s characters are… Then, as I rewatch those old Perry Mason shows, I expect him to tear into someone on the witness stand! (Or tear into William Talman!)

  6. KittyPride says:

    Raymond Burr was so terrific as the bad guy, he was scary!

  7. David Hollingsworth says:

    Great post Karen! Raymond Burr always have the perfect face and menace for film noir. Before ‘Perry Mason’, I think his best performance was in Rear Window, where he was the hapless villain, Lars Thorwald. You were scared of him but you also felt a little sorry for him.

  8. Laura A. says:

    I just watched “His Kind of Woman” last week and Holy Cow Burr was menacing! My dad watches Perry Mason every night so whenever I see him as a “bad guy” it’s really weird. I’ve seen “The Blue Gardenia” but I’ll have to keep an eye out for the other films you listed!

    “Ew” – lol.

  9. Laurie says:

    I had never seen, until recently, any movies where Raymond Burr played a bad guy, except for Rear Window. Other than that, the only characters I had seen him portray was Perry Mason & Ironside.
    Then, I started watching Noir Alley this year and oh my goodness! He plays so many evil men! I had no idea! He plays the bad guys as good as the good guys!
    I also like to listen to old Christmas radio shows on youtube. They come on one after another and lo and behold, the one that started playing last night was called something like “Suspicion at Christmas” and who played the evil, nasty, horrible man who decides to murder his old girlfriend and her husnad and children on Christmas EVE no less???? Raymond Burr!
    I don’t know how they even considered him to play Perry Mason! ‘)

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