The Racket Movie Review
Director: Lewis Milestone
Starring: Thomas Meighan, Louis Wolheim, Marie Prevost, G. Pat Collins, Henry Sedley, George E. Stone, Sam De Grasse, Richard 'Skeets' Gallagher, Lee Moran, John Darrow
Oscar Wins: No wins.
Other Nominations: Best Picture
For years after its initial release, historians believed this film had been lost to the ages. It wasn’t until one, singular copy was found in the private collection of Howard Hughes (who produced the film) that The Racket was able to be restored and viewed again.
And, if you’re asking me, I think the universe was trying to tell us something by hiding this film from humanity.
I really tried to like this one…I really did. Whenever I go into one of these old films, especially the silent ones, I try to take it all with a grain of salt – but this one was just a snooze.
Thomas Meighan stars as the straight-laced, honest policeman, Captain James McQuigg, who will stop at nothing to take down the corrupt criminal underworld. The only problem is that he’s working for a force that’s currently sitting comfortably in the back pocket of bootlegging crime boss, Nick Scarsi (Louis Wolheim).
With a rough physical appearance that had Wolheim typecast as a thug his entire career, Scarsi is the godfather of all the godfathers. Since The Racket was one of the first films to tackle the subject of a mafia-style crime ring, Scarsi became the inspiration for crime bosses throughout the rest of cinematic history. His trademark broken nose, his black bowler hat, even the way he held his gun would become stereotypes of “the boss”. Not a bad legacy!
Throughout the movie, McQuigg and Scarsi engage in a game of cat and mouse, egging and taunting each other with smirks and quips. Sure, McQuigg can try to arrest Scarsi, but he lacks evidence. Scarsi knows McQuigg can’t do anything when the DA and mayor share Scarsi’s twisted views. The two are at a stalemate, and neither is willing to make the first move.
While it isn’t explicitly clear where The Racket takes place, it’s thought to be set in Chicago – and really, it may as well have been. In fact, due to the controversial portrayal of the corrupt police force and city government, the film (and the play it was based on) was banned in The Windy City. Yup, doesn’t sound guilty at all.
If films like this have proven anything, it’s that power leads to corruption. Whether it’s on Wall Street, in the White House or on the city streets we all know and love, it’s becoming harder and harder to trust the people who supposedly have our best interests at heart. When every hand in the pocket has a gun, it’s impossible to know anyone’s true nature. And even those that hide behind a badge or a power suit can do just as much damage, if not more, than the “criminals” they chase.