1986 in Film – Raw Deal

Release Date: June 6th
Box Office: $16,209,459

Raw Deal (1986) is, in a way, an ending. It marks the end of one point of a man’s career who is on the cusp of far greater and bigger things.

By now, Schwarzenegger had established himself as a Hollywood player. Conan The Barbarian (1982) had got his foot in the door, The Terminator (1984) helped make him an icon, Conmando (1985) gave him a template to work with. He was just about ready for the big time.

Before that, he owed Dino De Laurentiis some more Conan films.

Laurentiis was an Italian film producer who credits stretch back to the 40s producing films with Fellini. In the 70s he switched to Hollywood finding further success with films like Death Wish (1974) and King Kong (1976). His producing credits stretch into the 100s, ranging from Flash Gordon (1980) to Blue Velvet (1986). The man knew how to make money and wasn’t afraid to cross genres to do it. Because of his experience with fantasy films Conan ended up with him to co-produce which ended up being Schwarzenegger’s big break.

By the mid-80s Laurentiis had setup his own production company, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG), and one of the first films out of the gate for them was Raw Deal.

Schwarzenegger wanted out of his Conan deal; his other sword and sorcery films, Conan The Destroyer (1984) and Red Sonja (1985) didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. Clearly, films like Commando were the way to go. Similarly, Laurentiis was looking for some quick cash to support his productions. An action film starring Schwarzenegger set in the present day would, in the mid-80s, seems like an easy way to make money.

The film didn’t get anywhere near the financial return it was expected to and partly due to this DEG would file for bankruptcy by 1988.

Seems a bit harsh but there you go.

The film stars Schwarzenegger as a small town sheriff and ex-FBI agent. Years ago he was forced out by a young prosecutor which led to him and his wife moving out to the sticks. She hasn’t taken it that well and has hit the booze and their marriage is now at breaking point. Meanwhile, the Mafia in Chicago take out a mob informant, as well as several FBI agents. One of the agents was the son of Arnie’s old boss. In an act of vengeance he gets Arnie to fake his death to go undercover into the Mafia gang, tear it down from the inside and just maybe get his old job back.

It’s a decent plot that never really takes flight. Arnie, once he’s undercover, comes across as quite amazingly smug. With his hair slicked back and in a fine looking suit he fits the bill for a up and coming criminal type. His usual quips and one liners don’t land as well as in other films, despite the action sequences not letting the side down.

Underground casinos get smashed in by a bulldozer, a quarry full of naughty men get shot and that’s all after you get Arnie setting an explosion to fake his death that is normally reserved for the end of films. The director, John Irvin, didn’t exactly had form in this type of film and didn’t go onto anything much better than this. The same goes for the writers; one of them ended up found drowned in his car in a river missing both his hands, his best work after this probably being Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991). The other, Norman Wexler, actually did have a track record. He had penned the scripts for Serpico (1973) and Saturday Night Fever (1977). After that he worked as a script doctor before working on Raw Deal.

It all feels like it is: a quick film turned round as fast as possible to make a quick buck. It doesn’t have the over the top nature of Commando and would make more sense as a mid range Chuck Norris film. It does, however, have Schwarzenegger in it.

That’s probably why it’s still remembered and not all but forgotten. There is, however, a strange coda to the story of this film: the money that Laurentiis needed from Raw Deal was going to be used to fund the production of another film he was working on, an adaptation of a Philip K Dick story called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, renamed Total Recall. Arnie wanted to star in it but Laurentiis saw someone else as the lead, like Patrick Swayze. Before that could happen, DEG went bankrupt and the rights were picked up by Carolco, at Arnie’s behest.

Funny sometimes how things work out.

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