Racket, The (1928)

“This is the last murder you’ll ever get away with in my district!”

Synopsis:
During the Prohibition era, a police captain (Thomas Meighan) is determined to nab a prominent bootlegging gangster (Louis Wolheim) who has consistently used political connections to elude arrest.

Genres:

Review:
This early Academy Award-nominee for Best Picture — produced by Howard Hughes, directed by Lewis Milestone, and based on a popular Broadway play by Bartlett Cormack — gained renewed attention several years ago when Turner Classic Movies collaborated with the University of Nevada at Las Vegas to restore it; it’s still unavailable on DVD, but naturally can be viewed on TCM. It remains a fine if undistinguished tale of crime and corruption in a city much like Chicago, and clearly serves as a harbinger of the wave of 1930s crime dramas. Pug-faced Wolheim — a “former mathematics instructor” (!) — is perfectly cast in the lead role as smug “Nick Scarsi” (he would be right at home in a Scorsese flick), and Marie Prevost displays sassy pre-Code sensuality as a cynical moll. Unfortunately, The Racket is a classic example of a silent film that would have greatly benefited from the use of sound, given how much pithy dialogue we instead must read from inter-titles; my favorite is “voiced” by Prevost, as she says to a naive suitor, “I wonder what’ll happen if you ever have a baby, and nobody’s tipped you off about storks.” (It doesn’t quite make sense, yet somehow conveys exactly what she intends to get across.)

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Louis Wolheim as Nick Scarsi
  • Marie Prevost as Helen
  • Fine direction by Lewis Milestone

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its status as a forerunner to the cycle of 1930s crime flicks. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Racket, The (1928)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must, and in complete agreement here.

    Overall, this is an OK crime drama with nothing all that memorable once it’s over. One can certainly see how it would pave the way for better, similar films. But, on its own, it’s simply served up respectably by Milestone, so it’s not likely to bore you while it’s running.

    Don’t expect much depth in terms of any of the characters, though, & be prepared for a few sluggish sequences along the way. As well, there are at least two key moments during which important characters are left completely alone in a police station (!) when they shouldn’t be.

    Still, the film has some grit in most respects, even if it’s ultimately a rough sketch of what was to follow in its path.

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