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An honest police captain named McQuigg becomes a tough rival to a powerful bootlegger named Scarsi, even though McQuigg's pinches never stick because Scarsi and his organization control the corrupt politicians and judges. When Scarsi can't scare McQuigg off, he gets him transferred to a quiet police precinct in the suburbs, but McQuigg continues their war of words via a pair of wisecracking newspaper reporters. Then McQuigg catches a huge break when Scarsi's younger brother gets picked up for a hit and run accident in his precinct, putting in motion a complex plan to bring down the mobster using the reporters, a nightclub singing gold digger, the upcoming elections and Scari's own organization. Written by
Only one copy of the film is known to have survived. It was long thought lost before being located in Howard Hughes' film collection after his death. The film was restored and preserved by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas film department. The restored copy is frequently shown on Turner Classic Movies in the United States. See more »
The Racket proved me wrong about a certain assumption I had always maintained that gangster films came really alive once sound came in because the snappy dialog of a Cagney, Bogart, or Robinson film was integral to the success. This film could hold its own with any of the sound films of the genre.
It originated on Broadway as a three act play all taking place in a police station that is captained by Thomas Meighan who is a doggedly honest cop in a city that is systemically corrupt. It's gotten real personal between Meighan and gangland boss Louis Wolheim. Wolheim is a swaggering arrogant sort who's even got his superiors out of joint with him for his quick resort to violence. Wolheim is a misanthropic sort who does not like women, no gangster molls for him. He has a weakness though, his spoiled rotten younger brother George E. Stone who has fallen big time for torch singing Marie Prevost. All that brings Wolheim down eventually.
Seeing Prevost on top of an upright piano she is obviously basing her character on Helen Morgan. The Racket came to the screen a tad too early, some musical numbers would have been good and might have happened if the film had been done even a few months later. Maybe even Morgan herself might have done the part.
As for Meighan his character is clearly based on Lewis J. Valentine who was a model captain who during the Roaring Twenties maintained his honesty in a corrupt era. Eventually Fiorello LaGuardia made him New York City's police commissioner and he was probably the best that ever filled that job. But that was in the future.
Howard Hughes produced this for Paramount and when he took over RKO he remade it with Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and Lizabeth Scott. It's a film that I like very much so it was a double treat for me to see this version of the same story. I'd recommend seeing both back to back.
And The Racket was up for an Oscar for Best Picture in the year of the first ceremonies. It lost to another Paramount film Wings.
The Racket proves that silent films could make good gangster films.
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