THE RACKET has a lot going for it. It’s well paced with plenty of action , as police captain Tom McQuigg ( Robert Mitchum) fights political corruption and the syndicate. His nemesis is Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan), the ruthless local crime boss – Scanlon has hooked up with a bigger, nation-wide crime syndicate which is led by someone called ‘the old man’ whom we never see.
Surprisingly, Robert Mitchum’s character doesn’t appear until about 20 mins into the film. McQuigg is new to Precinct 7 and lets his assembled men know that he won’t stand for anything other than good policing. Backing him at the precinct are Sergeant Delaney (Walter Sande) and officer Bob Johnson (William Talman).
States attorney Welch (Ray Collins) and his investigator,Turk (William Conrad) are in the pay of the syndicate which plans to make Welch a judge.
Robert Hutton is Dave Ames, a young reporter friend of Johnson. Ames is smitten with nightclub singer Irene Hayes (Lizabeth Scott) who just happens to be involved with Scanlon’s younger brother.
The plot moves fast as it becomes clear that Scanlon’s ways of dealing with problems are outdated. The ‘old man’ thinks he’s a liability, that physical violence is outmoded – buying politicians and judges is the new way forward.
And you just know that Robert Ryan’s Scanlon is going to explode at any minute.
One of the great things about this film is how it shows the depth of acting talent in Hollywood – Mitchum, Ryan, Scott, Talman, Conrad, Collins, Sande – all so good.
Joyce McKenzie and Virginia Huston are, respectively, the wives of Robert Mitchum and William Talman and are only in a couple of scenes. Their parts could easily have been eliminated .
I would have preferred Mitchum as a loner who gets involved with Scott.
William Conrad is under-used as the ‘fixer’ who says little but carries out orders efficiently . I wanted to see more of him.
Lizabeth Scott’s role is also under-written. She deserved more screen time and her developing romance with Robert Hutton is unconvincing. (Hutton’s role could also have been eliminated.)
As for the titular head of the crime syndicate, calling him ‘the old man’ and never letting us see him just seemed a waste of time. Don Porter was chillingly efficient as the second in command.
You could argue that Mitchum is miscast – playing a crime-fighting crusading cop is not usually his style , but he does it well.
Robert Ryan hits all the right notes as the combustible hood who doesn’t know he won’t last long.
Lizabeth, ( dubbed by Trudy Stevens?) sings “A lovely way to spend an evening.”
Mitchum to Ryan, ” You were born with an alibi in your mouth.”
The Racket was based on a 1927 play in which Edward G. Robinson played Scanlon, and, amazingly, director John Cromwell played the Mitchum role. It became a silent film in 1928, produced by a 24 year old Howard Hughes.
I’ve read good things about the silent version, but how can you beat the 1951 cast.