Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Year: 1951

Director: John Cromwell

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Elizabeth Scott

In The Racket, RRobert Mitchum plays it straight and against type as an honest cop who’s out to get the mob. This was an unusual role for Mitchum who generally played guys on the other side of the law, or if he is a cop, is not on the straight and narrow like he is here as Captain Thomas McQuigg. Actually, it seems like almost everyone in this story is corrupt except for McQuigg. McQuigg, who was exiled because he was too honest in a corrupt world, is called back in to “clean up” a city now being over run by a new breed of gangster, mob men who run their corrupt business like a corporation, no longer killing each other off, like old style hood Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan). Scanlon, a graduate of the Al Capone School of Mobsters, still believing in the doing things the old fashion way. The new organization believes in infiltrating the ranks, and filling the pockets, of dishonest politicians as a more progressive and profitable way of doing business. As a result Scanlon is getting pushed from both ends. The police led by McQuigg on one side and the new mob organization on the other. But Nick Scanlon is the kind of guy who when pushed, pushes back.

Robert Mitchum, who in real life as well as in reel life is the essence of cool and well known for his laid back almost non-acting style of acting seems uncomfortable as the straight laced McQuigg and is overshadowed in the film by Robert Ryan as the old style hoodlum Nick Scanlon. This is similar to the last time these two were matched up against each other a few years earlier in the superior film Crossfire. Over the years Ryan has made a career out of convincingly portraying evil cold blooded men. Also in the cast are Elizabeth Scott, who is pretty much wasted, Don Porter, William Talman and William Conrad.

While John Cromwell is given credit for directing the film there were four other directors who came and went thanks to Howard Hughes idiosyncratic style of running RKO Studios which he owned at the time. Mel Ferrer, Nick Ray, Tay Garrett and Sherman Todd all had a hand in this at one time or another. Like a soup with too many hands in the mix The Racket will keep you interested but is not a great crime thriller.

An interesting side note is that Howard Hughes originally commissioned Sam Fuller to write the screenplay, the source of which was a 1921 play. Fuller produced a script where the honest cop and the crime boss were not so black and white. Hughes nixed the script and hired W.R. Burnett (Little Caesar and The Asphalt Jungle) and William Wister Haines who received co-credit for the final script.

The film has also been labeled many times as film noir and has even been released on DVD in the continuing series of Film Noir Classics Collections, (Box Set number 3). I question whether this is really a noir film. It does not have the look or any elements of a true noir. No femme fatale, no dark shadowy lighting, no snappy dialogue or wet streets. Just look at this film and then look, at say, Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends or the previously mentioned Crossfire and you will see the different between a true noir style and The Racket.

By John Greco


Ah, father’s day. The day when you end up having to scrape together money you don’t have because your brother went ahead and bought a really expensive present that he just expected you to go in on with him even though he never asked you. Yes. It’s a wonderful day.

So… yeah… I think this list is pretty self explanatory. For the warm and fuzzy to the manipulative and terrible, movie dads come in all shapes and sizes. Here are some of my favorites from obscure classic film.

Florian Clement (C. Aubrey Smith) in But the Flesh is Weak

Robert Montgomery and C. Aubrey Smith play a father/son team of male gold diggers. Though the films focuses mostly on Montgomery and his relationships with Heather Thatcher and Nora Gregor, the best moments in the film are the quiet ones between father and son. Clement is a good father who taught his son to do bad things.

Stephen Ashe (Lionel Barrymore) in A Free Soul

Barrymore won an Academy Award for this performance. While the film is mostly memorable for the sizzling pre-code chemistry between Norma Shearer and Clark Gable, it’s Barrymore’s alcoholic lawyer father who gives the film its real heart.

Viktor Roth (Frank Morgan) in The Mortal Storm

Probably one of the best fathers in classic film. Roth is a father not just to his own children, but to his step sons, and their two best friends. Not only does he support the family and teach them to think for themselves, but he offers them the strongest kind of spiritual guidance after he sent to a concentration camp.

Eddie Collins (James Dunn) in Bad Girl

An expecting father. Much like director Frank Borzage’s similarly themed Little Man, What Now? Eddie’s story is about the sacrifices he’s willing to make for the child that he and his wife are expecting.

David Merlin (David Niven) in Bachelor Mother

Sort of an adoptive father. He falls for the son of Ginger Rogers (even though he’s not even really her’s either) just as much as he falls for Ginger. This is a lovely movie about how sometimes the best family is the one you make.

Sir Winterton (C. Aubrey Smith) in The Bachelor Father

This is definitely pre-code. It’s about a man who nailed a lot of different women when he was young, and now wants to gather all of his several children (all by different mothers) that he’s never met. This is one of my favorite movies from the early 1930s.

So who are some of your favorite dads from classic film?

By Katie Richardson