Movie Critique – Racket Busters

For review of all movies starring Humphrey Bogart, go here.

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: A good crime drama where the underdog fights for their rights against the mobsters and come out in victory. Perhaps could have had more laughs or more drama or a little more action that many films of similar kind have been dishing at us.

Racket Busters is a 1938 American crime drama film starring Humphrey Bogart, George Brent and Gloria Dickson in the lead cast. Directed by Lloyd Bacon, the screenplay for this plot about crimes in trucking industry was written by Robert Rossen and Leonardo Bercovici.

Manhattan gangster John "Czar" Martin (Portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) joins the trucking business to further his illegal businesses, but gets stiff opposition from some of the truckers, especially Denny Jordan (portrayed by George Brent). However, out of desperation when Jordan steals money from Czar to take care of his pregnant wife, Nora (portrayed by Gloria Dickson), he is forced to join Czar. Now Jordan either joins Czar and saves his family or continues to fight and lose everything.

Bogart played an antagonist in this which was typical of his roles around that time. Until The Maletese Falcon in 1941 and Casablanca in 1942, he was not given a leading man role. Even though he was not the leading man, Bogart did get top billing.

The central plot is based on official records from New York City around the prosecution of the trucking rackets, as the opening credits mention. There is a seal of approval from Commercial Crime Commission too for this film, an independent civic watchdog organization of business leaders founded in 1919. They fought against organized crime in commercial businesses. 

Ruthless, cunning and conniving, Bogart made quite a mark in this film despite being the antagonist. Some of his dialogues do drive the point on what he is, what he wants for the future and what he wants to do as a gangster.

Holler, suckers. When I get through with you, you'll holler even louder.
Now, I'm not telling you; I'm asking you.

But I think I liked what Gladys Christie (portrayed by Penny Singleton) spouts at her trucker fiancée, "Skeets" Wilson (portrayed by Allen Jenkins), holds more candle than Bogart's callous comments. 

A lot any of you know about women. Instead of hearts, you got motors. Instead of homes, you got garages and coffee pots. Instead of going home to your wives like respectable people, you are — I bet there isn't a wife around here who's seen the sun in ten years.

Walter Abel portrays the role of Hugh Allison, special prosecutor against the trucking racket, while Mary Currier plays the part of his wife, Mrs. Hugh Allison. Interesting the screenwriters didn’t give her an actual name. Allison does a lot of talking about the plans, but the actual execution of the plans are not shown in depth. Normally in such movies, the prosecutor would have come out powerful with results; bring in his investigatory skills; and have a huge courtroom drama. Oh, we see the results, but not the power in Abel's Allison. 

George Brent and Gloria Dickson become the patsy in all the hoopla between the special prosecutor and the gangster. Struggling between doing the right thing versus doing the right thing for themselves is clearly shown in their action. Although the romantic chemistry lacked a bit, they still made a good couple facing the struggles with strength.

The cops and mobsters all wear similar kind of suits, hats and shoes so it got a bit confusing to know who were the good guys and who were the bad ones. Not a whole lot is known about the film, other than that this is one of those of Warner Brothers B-films and looks like made in a documentary style.

The movie gives the raw footage of how the various businesses fight corruptions, the consequences of fighting against and giving in when families are risked. It has action from the truck drivers more than the prosecutor. That’s what bummed me but it still is a good film where the underdog fights for their rights against the mobsters and come out in victory. Perhaps could have had more laughs or more drama or a little more action that many films of similar kind have been dishing at us. All in all not a bad movie to watch on TV. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Around 40 minutes into the movie, when Denny Jordan reaches the Manhattan Trucking Association office, far way shot show a white thing peeking out of his right rear pocket. A close-up shot of the same doesn’t have that white thing. Perhaps Brent adjusted his pockets between takes and the white thing must be the inside of a pocket that got settled in.

b. When Jordan and Pop Wilson (portrayed by Oscar O'Shea) are in Allison's office, his tie is dark colored with light stripes. As soon as they leave the tie changes to a dark colored one with bright white stripes.


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