Tuesday, April 03, 2007

 

Hollywood always loved its gangsters

By Edward Copeland
As HBO's The Sopranos nears its end and following the fresh Oscar win of Martin Scorsese's Boston cops-and-mobsters film The Departed, I happened to catch, thanks to TCM, a showing of 1928's The Racket, one of the two other nominees for best production in the Oscars' first year that lost to Wings. Produced by Howard Hughes, The Racket is a fascinating artifact with many of the mob story standards set nearly 80 years ago.


Directed by Lewis Milestone (who won an Oscar that very first year, not for this film but in the defunct comedy direction category for Two Arabian Knights), it's a fairly standard (now anyway) story of cops vs. crooks as stalwart Police Capt. James McQuigg (Thomas Meighan) works to bring down underworld boss Nick Scarsi (Louis Wolheim, whose face was made for gangster movies. I wonder what he sounded like.) McQuigg finds Scarsi's Achilles' heel in his attempt to protect his younger brother Joe (George Stone) from getting embroiled in either his shady dealings or with women he perceives as "golddiggers" such as Helen Hayes (Marie Provost) (Yes, that is not a misprint. Her character's name was the same as that of the actress, who was well known even then. There must be a story behind that somewhere.) When a joyride between Joe and Helen ends up with a pedestrian's death, McQuigg thinks he finally has the leverage to get Scarsi once and for all, something that needs to be done quickly before a city election that he plans to deliver for "The Organization." The Racket can hardly be called a great film, even among silents, but it is entertaining and it's fascinating to see all those standard mob elements on display so many years ago. It's also interesting when compared with the following year's Alibi that I reviewed earlier this year. Both films make it clear that the cops had to bend the rules to get the bad guys, though the police in The Racket are much more straight arrows than those in Alibi.


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