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Film: The Racket
The Racket is a 1928 silent film directed by Lewis Milestone, starring Thomas Meighan and Louis Wolheim, and produced by Howard Hughes.

Wolheim is Nick Scarci, the bootlegging king of an unnamed city that looks a lot like Chicago. Meighan is Captain McQuigg, the cop that's determined to take down Scarci's crime organization. Unfortunately for McQuigg, the city is deeply corrupt and Scarci is best buddies with the mayor. Whenever McQuigg busts Scarci for something, Scarci's friends in City Hall get him sprung and nothing ever comes of it. One day, McQuigg gets a vital break when Scarci's younger brother Joe gets arrested for a hit-and-run accident. McQuigg then decides to seize on this chance to destroy Scarci's organization.

The Racket is one of the Trope Makers for the gangster film genre, predating later, better remembered gangster films like The Public Enemy and Little Caesar. It was believed lost for decades, until one copy was found in Hughes's vaults after his death. It was nominated for Outstanding Production—the award later retroactively determined to be Best Picture—at the first Oscar ceremony, losing to Wings. Wolheim and Milestone later teamed up again for the all-time classic All Quiet on the Western Front. Howard Hughes produced a remake of The Racket in 1951 with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan as, respectively, the cop and the gangster.


Tropes:

  • Action Prologue: A man, later revealed to be McQuigg, is walking along a dark city street at night. Another man has a rifle trained on him from a window above. The sniper pulls the trigger—which shatters a window well ahead of McQuigg, causing him to duck into a doorway. Scarci then appears in the doorway warning McQuigg to lay off his organization.
  • Battle in the Rain: Spike, a rival gangster, attempts to ship some liquor into Scarci's territory. It ends with a bloody shootout in the streets in the middle of a rain storm.
  • Between My Legs: An interesting variation on this trope. Spike the rival bootlegger has entered the speakeasy where Nick and company are dining. He and Nick exchange hostile stares. Then a camera shot frames Spike from between the legs of the table, from below, with the legs of Nick and his henchmen on either side. Nick is then shown reaching for his gun.
  • Bittersweet Ending: DA Welch's henchman shoots Scarci when he tries to get away. A horrified McQuigg realizes that Welch, who is just another tool in the Old Man's machine, will probably get elected Mayor. At the end, McQuigg nearly collapses from stress and fatigue. A cop asks him "What now?" to which he replies:
    McQuigg: Well, Iíd like to get some sleep, but after I get through with the Coroner and the other public servantsÖ itíll be time to go to Mass.
  • The Chanteuse: Helen the gold-digging nightclub singer is this. She sings and dances at the speakeasy that the Scarcis patronize.
  • Corrupt Politician: The "Old Man" who runs the local political syndicate that is in bed with Scarci and his crime gang.
  • The Faceless / No Name Given: The "Old Man", who is boss of the corrupt city government, is not named and is shown only from behind. It's not even clear whether he's the mayor or some other political officeholder or a political boss.
  • Gold Digger: Joe is sweet on Helen, a nightclub singer. Nick believes her to be a gold digger and in fact baldly accuses her. Helen responds by saying ďHe called me a gold digger. Well, Iíll dig. Iíll dig deep.Ē
  • Heel-Face Turn: After Nick gets Joe out of jail but leaves Helen in lockup, she decides to testify against him. She winds up being the key to bringing down his whole organization.
  • He's Dead, Jim: The cop who gets shot receives about five seconds of medical treatment. Hilariously, no one even bothers to check on Scarci after he gets shot.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Nick hates women and will have nothing to do with them, calling them "poison" to him. He gets very angry when Joe is flirting with Helen.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Nick's hatred for women and obvious fondness for McQuigg hints at this.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • A plaque on the wall reveals that Scarci the bootlegging kingpin belongs to the Anti-Liquor League.
    • When attending the funeral of a man he killed, Nick gets irritated at some rowdy people outside and says they should have more respect for the dead.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Nick plugs Spike with one fatal shot, from across a dance floor, with a gun that he's hiding under a table.
  • In the Back: After the cop who arrested Joe refuses Nick's bribe, Nick shoots him in the back. In the police station.
  • Mob War: The rivalry between Nick's gang and Spike's gang culminates in a shootout in the street and, soon after, Nick murdering Spike.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: After hassling Nick one too many times, McQuigg is sent to the 28th precinct off in the boonies. This backfires on the Scarcis when Joe Scarci runs down a pedestrian in McQuigg's precinct.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: The policeman who arrested Joe for running down a pedestrian in his car rejects a bribe offer from Nick.
  • Sitting Sexy on a Piano: Helen perches herself atop a piano before singing to the Scarci party at the speakeasy.
  • Those Two Guys: The two newspaper reporters, the Deadpan Snarker and his drunken sidekick, who are covering the Scarci story and are enlisted by McQuigg to provoke Scarci into a mistake.
  • Title Drop: Bootlegging is described as "the racket". Nick is determined that Joe will not enter the racket.
The Passion of Joan of ArcFilms of the 1920sShow People
WingsAcademy Award7th Heaven

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