Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Racket

Robert Ryan with Technical Pen and Robert Mitchum with a Brush Pen

The Racket! Brought to you by HOWARD HUGHES.

Yes, that Howard Hughes.

This was a great movie with outstanding acting and production values. The only part I was really let down was it's story, which may be because I was expecting a Noir(and Gosh I love Noir), but instead it was more of a gangster flick.

The Set-up: There's a big crime syndicate in town headed by "The Old man" with one of the major players being Nick Scanlon(Robert Ryan). The police get Captain Thomas McQuigg(Robert Mitchum), the only honest cop left on the force, to take Scanlon and the man down. Also, there's a dame(Lizabeth Scott) because, you know, whatever. Movies gotta have dames!

Everything about the production of this movie was fantastic. I was first intrigued when I read and saw this one scene (which may be my favorite scene in the entire movie). If you're really into the nuts and bolts of movies and you know what Mise-en-scène is, you'll love this movie. The cinematography is amazing, and they set up shots beautifully. Watch that one clip above, you'll see the camera pan in and out seamlessly while characters step into shots and all the characters magically have enough room on screen! There's not one overlapping body there. It really feels like they actually put thought into how EVERYTHING would be set up instead of just throwing actors on screen and hoping it pans out well.

The acting in this is top notch, especially when the Robert's Ryan and Mitchum go at one another. Mitchum plays the cool collected police captain delivering glared silence as if they were catchy one-liners. And Robert Ryan (who should be in ever Noir movie EVER because he's such a badass. He's the Clive Owen of his time) makes a great villain as intense, cocky, and downright violent.

I haven't seen a lot of Howard Hughes films, but I suppose this is the way he makes them, top-notch. Also there were lots of shootouts, and a house exploded! I did not see that coming for a movie this old(Imagine the audience back then! Imagine to be the Michael Bay of your day.

I should mention about the music that...there was none. At least 80% of the movie was without music. There's a song in the middle sung by the main girl(which I'm guessing they shoehorned in there just for the audience or for the actress's contract) and some light tragic music when one of the main good guys died, but all the dramatic music you're used to hearing was absent. I honestly rather enjoyed that. It made room for the acting. Sorry composers.

The only real problem I had was with the story. It was very straight forward good guys vs. bad guys. You knew which side everyone was on, and you knew who was going to get the girl and who was going to get major comeuppance. Watching Noir, I'm used to shady characters whom you don't know who's side their on, crazy plot twists, fallen heroes and thugs with hearts of gold. None here. Good guys are good, bad guys are bad. Not that the characters didn't have character, you just knew whose team everyone was on.

Oh and here's a plot twist: The major good guys are all married! Gasp! No love interest to fawn over for two thirds of the movie?! Scandalous!

SPOILER ALERT SORTA They kept mentioning, "The old man" who must be the head crime lord honcho, and I kept expecting one of the characters we see to step into the light and reveal, "Don't you get it?! The old man's been dead for years. I am the old man! DUN DUN DUN" But no. We just get a phone cal at the end in which one of the main bad guys supposedly talks to him. Oh well. END SPOILER ALERT SORTA

Also, I felt it strange they kept introducing characters throughout the movie. Not minor characters, major characters. There's a newspaper reporter who's friends with the hardened beat cop that we don't meet until halfway through, yet he plays an intricate part of Nick's downfall. And he's the one who gets the girl! Why didn't we meet him sooner in the movie? I'm not saying it's bad film making, just an interesting choice, very frugal. We don't need him right now, so let's save him for later.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It had great pacing, and there wasn't one part where I was bored or thought was slow. I can't really fault the story for being what it was, just like I can't fault a family movie for not having enough blood. Really it was my expectations that were too in the gutter. I'd give it a solid 14 out of 17. If you're into old movies or you're an artist looking for good cinematography/shots reference, I'd highly recommend picking it up.


  1. Cool sketch! Pardon my ignorance, but what exactly is this type of genre known for? What are the characteristic of a noir film?

  2. Oh wow, that's right I probably should have defined it properly for those who aren't huge noir geeks.

    Noir is a type of genre(or a sub-genre of drama) that was popular between the early 1940's to the late 1950's that's associated with low key lighting, strange camera angles, and storylines in which the lines of good and bad blur dramatically. This is where a lot of the detective characters like Sam Spade and Philip Marlow are born but the stories are much more diverse than that.

    It was a genre that sprung up after World War II in a time when America was pessimistic and paranoid. Most stories involve complex characters such as a criminal with a heart of gold, or an upright hero who slowly spirals into crime. They're gritty, tragic and you never know who you should be rooting for; it's all a big gray area.

    Some famous Noir's include: The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and Chinatown. If you like drama and stylized black and white movies, you'll like noir. But then there's also Neo- Noir and Sci-fi Noir! Man, sorry for a long ass explanation, it's just something hard to define.

  3. That's a great explanation! Thanks for taking the time out to explain. It's not a genre I'm too familiar with. I'll check out some of those movies. I love learning about new things! (New to me, old to everyone else!)