Movie Critique - The Racket

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: Fast moving film noir with the good fighting against the evil corruption everywhere, and well worth watching to see Mitchum beat Ryan out with smart and wit.

The Racket is 1951 American film noir drama with Robert Mitchum, Lizbeth Scott, Robert Ryan, William Conrad and Ray Collins in the lead cast among others. The film was directed by John Cromwell, produced by Edward Grainger and presented by Howard Hughes.

The film is a remake of 1928 silent film The Racket, which was based on Broadway play by Bartlett Cormack broadly based on Al Capone. Hughes also produced the 1928 silent film, one of his first films he made in Hollywood. A rare occurrence that both silent and the talkie remake were made by the same Producer. 

Director Cromwell got directing help from Nicholas Ray, Tay Garnett, Sherman Todd and Mel Ferrer, although none of them were credited for it. Interestingly enough Cromwell played the part of Tom McQuigg and Edward G. Robinson as the racketeer Nick Scanlon in the original Broadway play.

Honest policeman Tom McQuigg (portrayed by Robert Mitchum) has a very tough life at work; facing issues with the corrupt prosecuting attorney Mortimer X. Welch (portrayed by Ray Collins) and corrupt state police detective Turk (portrayed by William Conrad). And racketeer and mobster Nick Scanlon (portrayed by Robert Ryan) now adds into the mix making his life all the more tougher. Aided by another honest policeman Bob Johnson (portrayed by William  Talman), he tries to fight all three sides from which he is being tied.

Robert Mitchum had been in several such films where he is fighting crime. He simply fits into the shoe of McQuigg very easily. Yet Robert Ryan as Nick Scanlon made an equal opponent to McQuigg.  I couldn’t figure out if the story centered on Scanlon or McQuigg, both had such equal roles.

We get to see two of the famous characters from the original Perry Mason TV Show - William Talman as Bob Johnson, who was the famous prosecuting attorney Hamilton Burger always pitted against Perry Mason for a failure; Ray Collins as district attorney Welch, who was the famous lieutenant Arthur Tragg. Ironically the roles are sort of flipped for both actors in this film compared to Perry Mason show.

William Conrad, who plays the corrupt cop, Turk, here, had similar kind of supporting cast in many of the old time radio shows. He can be heard on several shows such as the espionage drama The Man Called X, The Green Lama, Nightbeat, Escape and Gunsmoke among other shows. I remember seeing him in the 1948 suspense thriller Sorry, Wrong Number as Morano.

Les Tremayne shows as Harry Craig, Crime Commission chief investigator. Again a frequented cast member of the Perry Mason tv show. Recently I saw him in the 1959 spy thriller North By Northwest as the Auctioneer. 

Lizabeth Scott as Irene Hayes makes a formidable asset to Micthum's McQuigg. She is a sizzling bombshell with all the urge to be on the right side of the law, only heart that is placed in the wrong side of law's brother. She performs a lovely melody in the film called "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening", Lyrics by Harold Adamson and Music by Jimmy McHugh.

The film was given an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture in the very first year of Oscars. The film needed four writers and five directors to finish it. Yet with not a lot of camera tricks, the movie has become a cult classic in film noir genre and has some excellent star cast and good dialogs. 

Fast moving film noir with the good fighting against the evil corruption everywhere, and well worth watching to see Mitchum beat Ryan out with smart and wit.


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