Monday, January 12, 2009

The Racket (1928)

Directed by: Lewis Milestone

Starring: Thomas Meighan and Louis Wolheim

Plot: A battle of wits between a police captain and a mob boss in the backdrop of a corrupt city.

Thoughts: We have all seen the stereotypes of gangster movies: fedoras, pinstripe suits, square jaws, etc. These were all a product of the 1920s when national alcohol prohibition became responsible for the rise in organized crime. Despite the headlines, theatrical films on the subject weren't very common. When this film was released, it was barred from Chicago theaters due to the city's prominence as the center of the mob.

Lewis Milestone made an interesting film here, which was based on the 1927 play. The acting lent itself more to a talking film than a silent. Speaking of talking, there was much more dialogue here than in any of the silent films I've viewed thus far (on title cards of course). The Racket's strength was its good use of editing to move the story along without making it feel rushed.

Probably the prototypical film of the gangster genre that would go on to be very popular in the 1930s, The Racket was believed lost for a long time. However, a search through the vaults of Howard Hughes produced a single print, believed to be complete (given the late Mr. Hughes' obsessive nature, it's a pretty safe bet the print is complete). The film was restored in 2004 by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas using the best resources available to them at the time. Turner Classic Movies airs it every once in a while, but it has yet to be made available to the masses on any medium. The Racket was remade in 1951 and starred Robert Mitchum as the stalwart police captain McQueeg.

The Racket received a sole nomination, that for Best Production (which would become the Best Motion Picture award the following year). It and Seventh Heaven lost to Wings that year.


  1. Hello fellow MST3K fan! I love old movies too, they're usually much better than the new ones. The slow pace alone pleases me. And the nostalgy of the era.

    PS. Love your profile picture!

  2. Thanks for stopping in, Helen. It's good to see someone else who appreciates the early era of film as well as MST3K. I'll have to send you a picture of my full-sized Tom Servo puppet.

  3. I like that you mention availability for those who would want to track down these films. Which begs the question: Is there a story to how you insured yourself access?

    Are you a compulsive recorder? Did you decide to do this project a long time before you did, waiting until you had accumulated the required material? How do you do it?

  4. I researched availability for the first 10+ years of the Academy Awards back in September-October. Some were available via Netflix (hooray!) while others had only been released on VHS and/or laserdisc. For anything Netflix didn't have, I checked the monthly schedule at the Turner Classic Movies website and have been able to "stockpile" a few films that way.

    However, TCM's schedule doesn't always coincide with the blog's schedule so I've had to rely on other methods to obtain films. Some of these have been in the form of VHS releases purchased secondhand (I'd prefer to buy secondhand laserdiscs but that's much more difficult and a bit more expensive) while others have come from "compulsive recorders" kind enough to help me out in exchange for a nominal fee.

  5. Where did you find this particular film?

  6. Any possibility of being able to view this film?

  7. Anonymous: Turner Classic Movies airs the film once in a great while. My copy is a recording from when they aired it. Hopefully soon, another print will be made available for DVD production.

    I'm surprised it's not part of their 28 Days of Oscar. You can suggest films for them to show here:

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