Thursday, January 10, 2013

Love Is a Racket

I'm always up for an interesting pre-Code, as long as it's not one of those early drawing-room comedies. TCM just gave us a night of such movies starring Loretta Young, and will be having another such movie early tomorrow morning: Love is a Racket, at 6:00 AM.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. stars as Jimmy Russell, a newspaper columnist covering the Broadway beat. Lady reporter Sally (Ann Dvorak) likes Jimmy, but Jimmy has forsworn women on the grounds that they tie men down into a domestic life that's much too constraining. (This was a couple of years before Nick and Nora Charles showed everybody how much fun marriage could be.) But you just know that Jimmy is going to get caught up with a woman, and that it's going to cause problems for him. That woman comes along in the form of Mary (Frances Dee). She's an aspiring actress who wants to make it big on Broadway, and is willing to use any man she can as a stepping stone. Since Jimmy writes about Broadway, he's the perfect man for Mary to try to charm.

Mary certainly needs to charm somebody. She's racked up quite the pile of debt trying to make it on Broadway, and has paid her way out of it by passing bad checks. Big problem. Jimmy would like to help her, and do so honestly, but he finds that he's been beaten to the punch by the wealthy Eddie Shaw (Lyle Talbot). Shaw also has his eyes on the lovely Mary, and has decided to bind her to himself by covering the bad checks and holding that over her. The problem for Mary is that Shaw is a shady character. He's a racketeer, involved in the "milk racket" which basically charged dairymen protection money and skimmed off that money (no pun intended). Jimmy's paper is railing against the racket because it hurts children, but there's not much Jimmy can do to expose Shaw since it will hurt Mary.

There are other people who have no compunction about going after Shaw, however. That would include Mary's aunt, who shows up at Shaw's deee-luxe apartment in the sky just before Jimmy does. Jimmy finds that the aunt has deposited a gun at the penthouse, while Shaw is quite dead, with Mary's checks on him. Oh dear.

Love Is a Racket is one of those movies that's got a lot going for it in the orm of things that are almost shocking. Some of the characters act surprisingly immorally and crime isn't punished at all. The only real problem is that the ending seems a bit too tidy. The leads are all enjoyable, with one other cast member I haven't mentioned being Lee Tracy as Jimmy's assistant Stanley. Tracy played some pretty cynical characters, and boy does he get to do something cynical here at a key point in the plot. Ultimately, Love Is a Racket is nothing groundbreaking, and even a lot like a lot of other pre-Codes that had racketeers in them. But that's not to say Love Is a Racket is bad. For anybody who likes pre-Codes, it's quite an enjoyable little entry in the genre. It's never gotten a DVD release, though, so you're going to have to catch it on TCM.


Judy said...

Glad to hear that this extremely enjoyable William Wellman pre-Code is getting another showing on TCM in the US - it has such a great cast, and I do wish it would get a Warner Archives release, so that more people could discover it! Enjoyed your review, Ted, and I think you are absolutely right to say it's "one of those movies that's got a lot going for it in the form of things that are almost shocking."

I wrote a probably too long review of this a while back as part of my intermittent Wellman project and included a few stills:

Ted S. (Just a Cineast) said...

Ah, so it is a William Wellman movie. You may know that TCM released a box set of Wellman's precodes as part of the Forbidden Hollywood series, but Love Is a Racket isn't on it.

When it comes to Wellman and shocking pre-Codes, I think the first one I'd pick is Night Nurse, which is available on a previous volume in the Forbidden Hollywood series.