Saturday, 23 April 2011

"The Racket" Review

The Racket (1951) is a slightly disappointing affair. The film promises a faceoff between Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan, two iconic actors, playing a honest cop and a gangster, respectfully. When these two actors do confront each other, the film is very powerful. Unfortunately, one feels that Mitchum and Ryan are sometimes sidelined due to the number of plotlines the film tries to handle. While it may take too long to summarize everything that goes on in The Racket, I'll give a basic summary of the plot. The film centers on the attempts of honest cop Captain Tom McQuigg (Mitchum) to bring down gangster Nick Scanlon (Ryan). This battle between cop and crook is set within the context of a crime comission investigation that is trying to stop DA Welsh (Ray Collins, Boss Jim Gettys in Citizen Kane) from being made a judge by "the old man," the leader of the crime syndicate.

The film is remake of a 1928 film of the same name, produced by Howard Hughes, who also produced this film. According to Eddie Mueller, who did a commentary track for the DVD, Hughes produced this remake because of the interest in real life crime commission investigations. Mueller also states that the first scene of the film establishing the crime commission as a part of  the story, was added in after the film was done. Nicholas Ray, director of They Live By Night and Rebel Without a Cause, directed this scene. He also directed a few others after credited director John Cromwell left the production. The film supposedly also had a few writers. I got the sense from this film that there is a number of intriguing characters and ideas that not fully developed. I think this has to do with the number of writers that were involved, as well as the different directors. I can see how all the parts of the film are supposed to fit together but, as I just said, at the same time I never felt they were fully developed enough to create the full picture.

This is not to say I wasn't involved with the plights of the characters though. I did care about rookie cop Bob Johnson (William Talman), and I was definitely invested in the relationship between McQuigg and Scanlon. The one thing that disappoints me most about the film is how, as Mueller also states, it's entirely about this conflict. Like Mueller, I wish it was. Mitchum and Ryan have great screen presences, even though Mitchum, as Mueller says, was perhaps a litte too laconic for this role, and there's real tensio when they face off. I think an extra half hour could have given all the plotlines room to breath and develop. At only 89 minutes, the film feels like something more expansive that was crammed in to a brisk hour and a half. I also wished we learned more about the past relationship between McQuigg and Scanlon.

While The Racket falls short of being a really great film noir, I still think it's a fine film due to Mitchum and Ryan's characterizations, along with the other strong performances in the film. The direction is subdued but visually pleasing due to the way Cromwell handles the composition of actors in front of the camera. The Racket is problematic but for fans of this genre and these actors, it's worth seeing. 

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