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