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The Racket (1928)
A great seminal early gangster film
Sadly this film was made available long years (like 50) after the giants of the early gangster films were available---Little Cesear and The Public Enemy,so it missed the true acclaim it probably deserves.
Being made during Prohibition, and during the less "glamourous" studio period (but with an excellent director, fast paced script and great supporting cast) it has the immediate feel of the time---when the policeman hero is exiled to the country it IS the country, and the character actors shine here--especially the incandescent and tragic Marie Prevost as the platinum blonde chanteuse, Helen Hayes. She is absolutely wonderful as a complete jazz baby flinging herself into the arms of the nearest well heeled heel available, her desperation clearly visible under the surface. This performance is subtle in it's (Mae West) undertones, but she anticipates the bright gaudy generous hearted vulgarity of Jean Harlow by several years. She has a huge range with her hideous fox fur collared cape, her cigarette, and her bits of business with her props--she has the stage presence of her character's name Helen Hayes, but she is much more naughty and fun to watch. She cynically analyzes the lead villain's fear of women, and stands up to him, leveraging his fear in the face of his men, and lays her neck on the line. At the same time, she desperately digs for gold, playing hard to get with the gangster's weak spot, his younger, ratty brother. (George Stone in an early role). The scene where she rips off her "act" costume, and jumps on an upright piano and has the musician's wheel her over to the gangster's brother's "birthday party" is pure gold.
How sad that she died so horribly in real life, but how wonderful that her performance is preserved here in all it's splendor! While Thomas Meighan is the same noble stiff as a board hero of DeMille's society matrons movies of the l920s he also shows range in a "good cop" role with a noir twist at the end, making this one of the first contemporary gangster movies. George E Stone, who would go on to play everyone's favorite rat for the next 40 years is here in a juvenile lead, scummy and detestible as ever, and the perpetually bombed and wisecracking reporter Skeets Gallegar gets all the fast paced and best lines. God Bless Ted Turner for not letting this one get lost! Cannot wait for it to come out on DVD for all true noir and gangster film archaeologist's to enjoy! We can only wonder what a kick it would be in film histories of today if this had been available at the same time as The Public Enemy , Little Ceasar and other seminal works. If you are a "Merry Gangster Historian" go for it!