Noir Nook: Bad Guy 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.
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!”
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.)
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.”
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.”
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
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.
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