The Racket is apparently one of only a handful of films nominated for Best Picture that has yet to get a wide release in a modern format, and indeed only one copy was known to exist before a restoration ended up having the film be aired on TCM some years ago for the first time ever. It’s this print that appeared on an obscure rare film website I managed to find through judicious Google searching, and thus I was able to see the film for myself. For what it’s worth, without having seen the before version of the film, the restoration was damn near pristine, so there shouldn’t be any worries about the quality if you decide to track this one down. The only thing that should be a worry is whether or not the film itself is actually worth it. Well, to answer that question, I’ll put my thoughts on The Racket in as simply a way as I can: going into it, I knew that it was silent, and a gangster picture, and those two things didn’t seem to make sense combined together to me at first, and it would seem the film itself seemed to know this as well, as incongruous as the film’s format as a silent picture apparently was.
The Racket is a fight on the streets and behind the scenes between honorable police officer Capt. McQuigg and notorious crime boss Nick Scarsi, as the two go toe-to-toe in indirect means before Scarsi’s brother gets himself in a hit-and-run & arrested under McQuigg’s jurisdiction, giving McQuigg the ammunition he finally needs to take the fight with Scarsi to much more direct and head-on methods. The rudimentary plot synopsis aside, I went into The Racket not expecting much in terms of plot, but there’s more to be had here than at first glance, even with the obligatory love angle (which worked a little better than I thought it would, if mostly because it didn’t involve the main character). The film starts out very simply, almost as if it knows it has to hook the audience’s attention through the film itself instead of assuming everyone is already at rapt attention from minute one, which is a good and correct assumption to make, since that’s pretty much what happened with me; I felt like I could barely pay attention when I started, and I ended the film a little bummed it was over. So, the surprising above-average complexity of the plot aside, how was the film otherwise? It was kinda weird, in that it didn’t really feel like a silent film; The Racket felt like a picture that had been desperately waiting for the advent of sound, and the producers had simply opted not to wait for the technology any longer. The film’s very liberal use of title and dialogue cards seemed to, more than anything, be making up for the lack of actual audible dialogue in the film, and the story of the film definitely felt like it was on crutches due to the lack of this aspect of filmmaking that had actually appeared on the scene the previous year of release. Apparently, this was also based on a play, which given the theater is kinda known for spoken dialogue, and this becomes even more handicapped as a result of the medium it was adapted into.
So, here’s what I ended up with in terms of questions after watching The Racket: How did this get nominated for Outstanding Picture? Best Picture, I might understand a little better, even if there were a minimum of five nominees like in later years, but for the first year of the Oscars, it was known as Outstanding Picture, and it only had three nominees. Having now seen Wings, and understanding why it won an award with the name Outstanding Picture, the nomination for this film seems even more odd, especially in retrospect. Still, the weird nomination aside, I liked this more than I thought I would, though again the advent of sound would seem to be just what the gangster genre of films had been waiting for, especially with films like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy a couple years or so away. I’m sure you’ve already seen films like this before, but neither will it be a waste of time if you do decide to watch this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10