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Racket The (1928)

Racket The (1928)

Produced by Howard Hughes this terrific silent film was nominated for the first Best Picture Academy Award ever given losing to Wings (1927). It was directed by Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)). It stars Thomas Meigham as police Captain McQuigg and Louis Wolheim (also in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)) as mob leader Nick Scarsi.

Scarsi is a crime boss who’s mildly bothered by local policeman McQuigg. The beginning of the film begins with Scarsi’s henchman Chick (Lucien Prival) unsuccessfully assassinating McQuigg before Scarsi seemingly unawares exits his flat. McQuigg tells Scarsi he’s got to find a new line of work; apparently they have a “cordial” relationship of sorts. However Scarsi has the upper hand able to get out of any charges brought by McQuigg (including murder!) because of his crooked connections at City Hall.

Scarsi’s gang is planning on venturing into a rival gang’s territory with beer intending to “buy” votes to reelect their candidate as Mayor. But the rival gang and McQuigg both hear of it and make plans accordingly. However Scarsi shows up at the police station to tell McQuigg to stay out of it and instead attend a party for his son Joe who he’s kept clean and out of crime thus far (though the actor that plays Joe George E. Stone looks like a pretty slimy guy). When Scarsi’s gang arrives with the beer a gang war begins but the police are able to quickly break it up. During the battle Chick is caught by McQuigg and taken in for murder.

At the party for Scarsi’s son when the nightclub singer Helen (Marie Prevost) “moves in” on Joe Scarsi calls her a gold digger and tells her to get lost. From the advice he gives his son we learn that women are “a curse”. McQuigg then arrives to attend the party. There is a placard at the table with his name on it and one for Chick. He sits in Chick’s seat and tells Scarsi that he won’t be coming only to have Chick tap him on the shoulder having already been let out on bail. The rival gang’s boss Spike then shows up at the restaurant and sits to have his meal. After a lot of macho looks and posturing by Scarsi’s and Spike’s gangs as well as McQuigg’s men Spike is shot by Scarsi when he raises his handkerchief to wipe his mouth after eating his dinner. Even though the handkerchief also contained a gun McQuigg takes Scarsi in on a murder charge. However his lawyer is waiting on him with a habeas corpus and he is released immediately. Scarsi figures he’s had enough of McQuigg and has him reassigned to a precinct “in the country” really just a long way from downtown (28th Street).

Next we see Joe driving along out in the country with Helen. He pulls over and starts to get fresh but she’s having none of it. In order to win her favor he gives her an engagement ring but she’s still not satisfied and gets out. A policeman happens along in a car and assuming the guy was make unwanted advances says he’ll take care of it. Joe hears this and drives away quickly running over a woman in the street. The policeman catches up with him and arrests him for “hit and run” taking him to the station which just happens to be McQuigg’s new precinct. But nobody knows who Joe is (and Joe’s not telling them). Though Helen was a witness to the events she does know who Joe is and won’t say out of fear. It’s curious that McQuigg doesn’t recognize Joe given the fact that he was at the party.

The press camped out at McQuigg’s station hoping to get a story enable Scarsi to find out about Joe and get him released. But there is still the problem of the policeman who witnessed the crime. Scarsi himself then comes to the station. There’s a great mano-a-mano confrontation and attempted bribe scene between Scarsi and the honest officer who doesn’t realize it’s Scarsi he’s talking to before Scarsi shots and kills the officer in the back. However the newest member of the press a real greenhorn collides with Scarsi during his exit and thus becomes a witness to Scarsi’s crime of murder.

The quality of this film really drops off at this point becoming a story about politics & the upcoming election the power of the press more macho posturing by all and an incredulous instant romance. Plus there is an awful lot of “talking” – e.g. cards to read – in this silent! I won’t give away the ending except to say that the “curse” is realized.

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