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

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Year: 1947

Director: Edward Dmytryck

Cast: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame

Crossfire starts with a fight seen only in shadows on the wall. A man is killed but you don’t know who, and you don’t know who the murderer is. Crossfire is filmed as a fairly standard murder mystery, someone is murdered and the wrong person is blamed. As the investigation continues the real killer is eventually identified and caught. Seems pretty standard, right? As the story unfolds you will see that the real story here is one of bigotry and religious intolerance. A topic that was never attempted before (Gentleman’s Agreement was released later the same year).

Captain Finlay, (Robert Young) is investigating the murder of Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) a Jew who met up with the wrong people. The suspects are soldiers just returned from the war. Among them are Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and George Cooper. As the story unfolds with each soldier telling his version of the story it slowly becomes clear as to who the killer is. But that is not the point as you will know by now.

The film was done on a low budget because no one felt there was an audience for this kind of picture. In the end, the film not only made money but was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, (Edward Dmytryk), Best Supporting Actor (Robert Ryan) and Best Supporting Actress (Gloria Grahame).

Dmytryk has said that he used the film noir style because it was cheap and they had no budget, and noir required less lighting. True story or not, the use of low lighting, dark streets, cheap hotels and shadows created a noir classic.

Robert Young holds his own amongst some heavyweight company, but its Robert Ryan who provides a classic performance as the sadistic bigot Montgomery. Ryan, of course would go on to play a long assorted list of vicious characters in his career. Interesting enough Robert Mitchum is given a supporting role in this film even though by now he was a star. Crossfire was produced by RKO Pictures who Mitchum was under contract to and probably was forced to do the film, even if the role was not the lead. Gloria Grahame is on screen for only six to eight minutes but gives a tremendous performance as a dance hall girl, who spends time with Mitchell (George Cooper) the soldier who is at first incorrectly identified as the killer. From what I have read, Grahame, who has an abusive husband on screen, was going through a similar situation in real life and that may have led to some added authenticity that otherwise might have been missing.
Either way she is fantastic as usual. In the short, that accompanies the film on the DVD, it’s mentioned that Dmytryk used different lens when filming Robert Ryan. In the beginning, he used a standard 50mm lens showing Ryan’s character as normal. Later on he used a 40mm and still later, a 35mm and finally a 25mm on Ryan so he could reflect the distorted craziness of Ryan’s character, Montgomery. Crossfire is a film not to be missed.

By John Greco