The Racket (1951)

“Born with an alibi in your mouth, huh?

Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan) is a mobster who has done well for himself, not only building a criminal empire but managing to buy the loyalty of several local government bigwigs.

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(Image via Movie Poster Shop)

There’s one influential fella he can’t seem to crack, though. Tom McQuigg (Robert Mitchum), a police captain, refuses every bribe (and, furthermore, wants nothing more than to see Nick’s castle crumble).

Tom faces a lot of resistance, even from the DA (Ray Collins) and Detective Turk (William Conrad) of the state police. But with the help of a few other honest people — cop Bob Johnson (William Talman), reporter Daves Ames (Robert Hutton), and a nightclub singer (Lizabeth Scott) who may be willing to testify against Scanlon — Tom may just be able to defeat Scanlon and his gang.

The Racket was directed by John Cromwell. The screenplay was written by William Wister Haines and W. R. Burnett, from a play by Bartlett Cormack.

This film spins a fairly simple tale of crime and corruption. A good cop refuses to give in to a crime syndicate, but he’s one of few. He and his very few allies are virtually all that stands between the crime syndicate and total control of the city, from its government, to its courts, to its streets. It’s a classic good-vs.-evil tale.

Reading a short description of the film beforehand, I fully expected Robert Ryan to be playing the cop and Mitchum to be playing the crime boss, but the opposite its actually true! The two share a great bit of tension in their scenes together.

Principled police captain is not the role I’m used to seeing Mitchum in, but he plays it very well. Lizabeth Scott is fantastic in her role as well, delivering pure, strong-willed sass. All of these folks do great work in The Racket.

There are several twists and unique aspects to the film which kept me engaged even though the story is, at its heart, so simple and classic. There’s an explosion, a wonderfully photographed man hunt taking place in a parking garage, political corruption, and fearless Bob using himself as bait against Nick and his harsh, violent crew.

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(Image via IMDb)

The relationship between Nick and his brother adds an interesting element to the story, too. Nick tries to control his brother’s life, and gets very distraught when his brother veers even slightly off the path (such as when he gets engaged to a “canary,” Scott’s character).

Nick’s weakness is that he isn’t as careful about his own affairs as he is about his brother’s. In fact, he’s downright reckless. He doesn’t think much before reacting, and tends to lose his cool in just about every situation, which leads the film down a heartbreaking path.

The Racket‘s web of corruption, evil, and betrayal is downright fascinating to watch. The film’s got some action, but is also quite the talky crime drama, keeping the viewer hooked with both its plot and its shoot-’em-up moments. Without hesitation, this can be made an early addition to my “favorite discoveries” list for the year. Highly recommended!

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9 thoughts on “The Racket (1951)

  1. Well, I guess you enjoyed this one more than I did. It was okay, but I thought a bit diluted (in fact, the title of my post on it was “Diluted Noir”). There’s a 1928 silent version directed by Lewis Milestone I haven’t seen yet, but hear is pretty good (and was Oscar nominated!).

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  2. Pingback: March 2018 in Film | The Motion Pictures

  3. One of the first noir films I ever saw, way back in the ’90s, and I still like it as much now as I did then. Knowing William Talman’s characters in other films, I keep waiting for him to turn bad in this one, but he never does! An interesting commentary by Eddie Muller on the disc, if you ever get the chance to listen to it.

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