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