A less than satisfying, supposed "classic" Film Noir that stars some of the biggest names most typical to similar genre films of that era, but that lacks in virtually any tension, visual flare or directional ingenuity. RKO’s top man Howard Hughes must have been sleeping when he decided to produce this thing, a remake of a film he had already produced once before in 1928. The script itself, while neatly tied together, is dry, clichéd and unexciting, despite having been penned by scriptwriter W.R. Burnett, who also wrote the scripts for such classics as Scarface (1932/trailer) and High Sierra (1941/trailer).
As directed by John Cromwell, a man whose directorial career goes as far back as the third version of The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), The Racket exhibits none of the talent featured the year before in Cromwell’s camp classic, women-behind-bars noir, Caged (1950/trailer). Dreary, predictable and tedious, The Racket features Robert Mitchum as the good guy (as to be expected), Robert Ryan as the bad guy (also to be expected) and Lizabeth Scott as the hardened nightclub singer gangster moll who sees the light (as to be expected). Mitchum sleepwalks through his role as Capt. McQuigg, the honest cop forever stymied in his attempts to stop crime by a corrupt city government headed by the city’s top bad guy, Nick Scanlon (Ryan). Ryan plays the gangster as such an over-the-top hothead that it quickly becomes hard to believe that he could’ve ever reached his position in the first place. Scott’s roll as Irene, the pawn Mitchum initially uses to bring Nick down, is actually a totally superfluous character, and she acts it as badly and unconvincingly as she always does. The whole film comes across as a well made, sterile mistake, completely pointless and existing for no reason other than to employ a bunch of names and give them rent money. The Racket does well to prove that no, even back then they didn't always make 'em like they used to...
In the Robert Mitchum biography "Baby, I Don't Care" by Lee Server, Server relates that Samuel Fuller first wrote the script for "The Racket," and in his version the cop and gangster were both uncontrollable psychos. Mitchum liked the script and agreed to do it, but then W.R. Burnett watered it down and Mitchum was stuck, which is probably why he looks so glum and uninterested. Too bad they didn't film Fuller's script--I'll watch anything Sam Fuller had a hand in, even "The Klansman" (if only to try and spot how drunk Richard Burton is in each scene.)
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