Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Racket (1928)

TCM is putting the spotlight on actor Louis Wolheim tomorrow on his birth anniversary. I've recommended him in a few movies before, a couple of which are airing tomorrow. A movie that's on the schedule that I haven't recommended before is The Racket, at 12:15 PM.

Louis Wolheim plays Nick Scarsi, a gangster in some largish 1920s American city that could be any American city. This being Prohibition, he runs the bootlegging, and has done a good enough job of it that he's made the money to buy all the important people in town. One of the few people he hasn't been able to buy is police captain McQuigg (Thomas Meighan). McQuigg is one of the few honest cops in town, trying to bring down Scarsi, because the war on politically disfavored mood-altering chemicals that we're still fighting to this day is just so virtuous, and the people who traffic in these evil substances need to be taken down. Well, the movie doesn't put it quite like that, of course. At any rate, McQuigg eventually goes too far in his attempt to get Nick, or at least too far for his own good. Nick controls the police commissioner, who has McQuigg transferred to a suburban precinct, which in this case really means out in the middle of nowhere.

Nick has one other person he hasn't been able to control, that being his brother Joe (George E. Stone). Nick has been almost single-minded on building up the business of distributing liquor, to the extent that he even excludes women from his life. Joe, on the other hand, has developed a taste for the high life, drinking and cavorting with women. This includes nightclub entertainer Helen Hayes -- that's the name of the character; she's played by Marie Prevost. Wilfully ignoring big brother's orders, Joe goes out on the town one evening, gets drunk, and on eht way back, gets in a fatal hit-and-run accident. In the past, Nick has been able to get out of jams using his influence with the police. But this accident has taken place in that out of the way precinct to which McQuigg was transferred. McQuigg, sensing he has a chance to take down Nick, decides he's going to take it.

Before seeing The Racket, I would have thought the gangster movie wouldn't translate as well to the silent era as comedies or adventure movies. There's more of an emphasis on dialog, and the molls don't get to perform the way they soon would once sound came along. And yet, The Racket is extremely entertaining and well made. Wolheim gives a good performance, and the plot is quite good. Even if you know that it's going to end in the "right" way, the climax is still exciting.

As far as I'm aware, The Racket isn't available on DVD at all, so you're going to have to catch the infrequent TCM airing.

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