The Great Villain Blogathon: Big, Bad Burr

Perry Mason was a good guy.

Ironside was a good guy.

But Raymond Burr, the fella who brought these good guys to life, was so much more fun when he was a dyed-in-the-wool, no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners villain.

To celebrate our annual Great Villain Blogathon, I’m taking a look at Burr’s best bad guy roles.

Join me, won’t you?

Desperate (1947)

The lowdown:

Helmed by one of my favorite noir directors, Anthony Mann, this feature focuses on Steven Randall (Steve Brodie), a blissfully married truck driver whose wife, Anne (Audrey Long), is expecting their first child. Eager to beef up the family coffers, Steve is enticed by childhood pal Walt Radak (Burr), into hauling a shipment of perishables, but tries to back out of the job when he learns that his cargo consists of stolen goods. When Steve signals a passing cop, gunfire is exchanged, killing the policeman and leaving Walt’s kid brother, Al, charged with murder. Steve goes on the lam with Anne, but Walt tracks him down like a hound dog after a sack of bacon, blaming Steve for Al’s conviction and subsequent death sentence, and planning to exact revenge by killing Steve at the same moment of Al’s execution.

Burr gives the business to one of his underlings in Desperate.

Favorite quote:

Walt eventually catches up with Steve and offers him a “last meal,” telling him: “I’m sorry I can’t give you a choice of food, but it won’t make much difference. You’re not going to live long enough to get any nourishment out of it.”

Other stuff:

Steve Brodie said that he was responsible for Burr’s casting in the role. “Ray was . . . testing for a biblical part, so I suggested his name to the producer, Michael Kraike, for our picture,” Brodie said. “Kraike liked the idea, and for the next decade villain roles were about the only parts Raymond Burr played.”

Raw Deal (1948)

The low down:

Dennis O’Keefe stars in this first-rate feature (also directed by Mann) as Joe Sullivan, a gangster imprisoned for a crime committed by his boss, Rick Coyle (Burr). Coyle helps Joe bust out of the big house, but his motivation is far from selfless; he suspects that Joe will spill the beans about Coyle’s guilt and he wants to give him a permanent gag order, if you know what I mean. When Joe learns of Coyle’s real motivation, he deftly avoids a massive dragnet and, accompanied by his faithful girlfriend, Pat (Claire Trevor), goes after his former boss.

Now THAT’S a menacing look!

Favorite quote:

I dig Coyle’s rationale for helping Joe to escape from prison: “He was screaming he wanted out,” Coyle tells his underlings. “When a man screams, I don’t like it. Especially a friend. He might scream loud enough for the D.A. to hear. I don’t want to hurt the D.A.’s ears. He’s sensitive.”

Other stuff:

Raw Deal was praised by one critic for its taut action and “slambang finale,” but Burr’s notices were mixed; while the critic for the Motion Picture Herald noted his “good performance [as] a sinister and sadistic criminal boss,” the actor was dismissed in Variety as “reminiscent of the late Laird Cregar in bulk and manner but . . . deficient in a sinister quality.” (Well, damn.)

Pitfall (1948)

The lowdown:

Burr was a standout bad guy in Pitfall, where he played a psychotic detective named Mack MacDonald. The film’s action centers on insurance agent Johnny Forbes (Dick Powell), whose general boredom with life is the perfect incentive for stepping out on his wife when he meets a beautiful blonde, Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott). What he didn’t bargain for was the hulking, creepy MacDonald, who is obsessed with Mona and wholly unappreciative of anyone who stands in his way.

He can’t keep his eyes off of Lizabeth Scott.

Favorite quote:

Referring to Mona, MacDonald says, “She probably doesn’t appeal to you, but for me, she’s just what I told the doctor to order.”

Other stuff:

Burr was universally applauded for his portrayal of the villainous detective – the critic for the New York Times raved: “As the heavy, literally and figuratively, a newcomer named Raymond Burr does a sinister and fascinating job.  He is a big man and unless we are mistaken, his weight, histrionically and otherwise, will make an impression on the screen in days to come.”

His Kind of Woman (1951)

The lowdown:

In this film, one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Burr is syndicate boss Nick Ferraro, who has been exiled to Italy and plans to return to his old stomping grounds by murdering and assuming the identity of professional gambler Dan Milner, played by Robert Mitchum. (Now if that isn’t villainous, I just don’t know what is.) After first disposing of a federal immigration official (Tim Holt) who gets wind of his scheme, Ferraro has Milner abducted and spirited aboard his yacht, where he plans to make the nefarious switcheroo.

He wants Milner to see it coming. Yikes.

Favorite quote: In a particularly vicious scene, Ferraro rouses the dazed and beaten Milner, explaining, “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.”

Other stuff:

Lee Van Cleef was original slated to play the part of Nick Ferraro, but producer Howard Hughes wanted Burr. And that was all she wrote.

If you’re not familiar with Raymond Burr’s bad-guy performances, do yourself a favor and check these out!

You only owe it to yourself.


This post is my contribution to the Great Villain Blogathon 2017, hosted by my pals Kristina at Speakeasy, Ruth at Silver Screenings, and yours truly! Be sure to check out the totally fabulous posts that our talented contributors served up for this year’s event!

~ by shadowsandsatin on April 28, 2017.

14 Responses to “The Great Villain Blogathon: Big, Bad Burr”

  1. Hi Here’s my review of Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained

  2. What?! Raymond Burr received less than rave reviews for his role in The Low Down? OK, I haven’t actually seen this film, but I have a hard time imagining Raymond B. being anything less than fabulous.

    The thing about Raymond B. is he has real menace when he wants to. And it’s not just his size. I always get a chill in Rear Window when he suddenly realizes who’s been after him about his wife’s murder – the way he glares out the window, across the courtyard and into Jimmy Stewart’s window/soul.

    I really liked this overview of some of Raymond B.’s lesser-known villainy roles. Also, thanks for being a great co-host! 🙂

  3. “Deficient in a sinister quality” !! What movie was that guy watching? Burr could turn on the creep like nobody’s business.

    The first time I showed my daughter one of his nasty roles she asked “Are you sure that’s the Chief?”

    Great idea and a great article for the blogathon. Thanks for hosting. I look forward to this one every year.

  4. Love Burr as the always winning lawyer Mason, but also love His Kind of Woman, and his turn as the baddie in that film. Great post!!!

  5. […] Shadows and Satin […]

  6. Hey, nobody can be Laird Cregar !

  7. Nice job, as usual. I don’t think I’ve seen “Desperate,” but will definitely be checking it out soon. He totally creeped me out in “Pitfall.” Yikes! He gave me the chills from the moment he’s first seen on screen. Knew he’d be trouble!

    • Thanks, Stephen! I hope you get to see Desperate — I know you’ll like it. He’s not as creepy as he is in Pitfall, but he’s actually scarier! (If that makes any sense.) 😉

  8. Great choices, Interesting how often the nicest guys in real life made the best movie villains. Burr is so good in everything, and great at being a creep. Wonderful co-hosting this event with you every year, thanks for all your work!

  9. Haven’t seen any of these yet, but your fabulous choice of quotes alone makes me want to give them a try. Which would you recommend as an introduction to Burr?

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