The Racket (1951 )

Directed by John Cromwell

Nicholas Ray
Tay Garnett

Nasty Robert Ryan Elevates This Film Noir

26 October 2006 | by ccthemovieman-1 (United States) – See all my reviews

A deep cast of well-known actors highlights this film noir effort. Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Lizabeth Scott, William Talman, Ray Collins, Don Porter and William Conrad are all familiar names, especially to film noir buffs.


Ryan lifts this from an average classic-era crime film to above-average with a convincingly nasty character. He plays a no-compromise hood who lives by the code of violence. You have a problem? Violence, not brains, is the answer, according to Ryan’s character “Nick Scanlon.”

The film is fast-moving despite not having a lot of action scenes. All the characters are good, not just Ryan’s, and the dialog is excellent in spots. The photography is nothing special, at least not as dramatic as most noirs, but it’s a solid crime film, thanks to this cast. I would rate this a bit higher but I didn’t care for the ending.


excellent and gritty

Author:planktonrulesfrom Bradenton, Florida
9 February 2006

This film reminds me a lot of an earlier film that paired Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan (CROSSFIRE), as both have very tough and gritty plots that are excellent examples of Film Noir. However, in this film instead of a plot involving anti-semitism, it’s a good cop versus organized crime flick. Once again, Ryan is a scumbag and Mitchum is a decent and hard-as-nails cop bent on justice. A particular standout is the dialog between them–very snappy and pure Noir! I particularly liked the exchanges between them in the police station when they were cross-examining the cocky and unrepentant Ryan. And, since it is Noir, you know that there will be ample quantities of violence and testosterone. Give it a try–this is a seldom-mentioned classic.


Corrupted City

Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
19 November 2008

In New York, corruption has reached all levels under the command of the powerful mobster lord “The Old Man” and the local crime boss Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan). When the Crime Commission under the command of Chief Investigator Harry Craig (Les Tremayne) meets with governor, the disbelief of the population is almost total. Craig tells that the uncorrupted Captain Thomas McQuigg (Robert Mitchum) was moved to the 7th District Police Station and has the intention to clean his district.

The Commission counts on the testimony of Roy Higgins (Howland Chamberlain) but Nick sends one of his men to eliminate him. McQuigg uses his honest Officer Bob Johnson (William Talman) to arrest Nick’s brother Joe Scanlon (Brett King) and his lover and singer Irene Hayes (Lizabeth Scott) to press Nick, under the protest of the corrupt District Attorney Mortimer X. Welsh (Ray Collins), who is supported by the mafia to the position of judge on the next elections. When Nick kills Bob, he sees the collapse of his empire and the end of the support of “The Old Man”.


“The Racket” is a good but dated police story disclosing corruption in all levels of New York City. The ending is extremely commercial, moralist and without credibility, with the subpoenas of Mortimer Welsh and Detective Sergeant Turk and the romance between Irene Hayes and the naive City Press journalist Dave Ames. Robert Ryan is excellent in the role of the violent and old-fashioned criminal, but Robert Mitchum  has a bureaucratic performance. Just as a curiosity, the name of the owner of the car used by Joe stamped on the newspaper is William R. Wyler, maybe in a tribute to the great director. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): “A Estrada dos Homens Sem Lei” (“The Road of the Men Without Law”)

The Racket 1

William Conrad,


The plot is very close to the original play and 1928 movie. Racketeer and mobster Nick Scanlon (Ryan) has managed to buy several of the local government and law-enforcement officials of a large midwestern American city. However, he can’t seem to touch the incorruptible police captain Tom McQuigg (Mitchum), who refuses all attempts at bribery. The city’s prosecuting attorney, Welch (Collins), and a police detective, Turk (Conrad), are crooked and make McQuigg’s job as an honest officer nearly impossible.

McQuigg persuades a sexy nightclub singer (Scott) to testify against Scanlon, which makes her marked for death from the mob. McQuigg not only wants to nail Scanlon, but also stop all the mob corruption in the city – without getting himself or his witness killed. A bomb explodes near McQuigg’s home, frightening his wife, Mary.


Honest cop Bob Johnson is helpful to McQuigg, as is reporter Dave Ames, who has a romantic interest in Irene. At the police precinct one night, Scanlon walks in alone demanding to see Irene and kills Johnson in cold blood. After a car chase, Scanlon is taken into custody. McQuigg ignores the gangster’s lawyer, ripping up his writ of habeas corpus. McQuigg has the gun that killed Johnson, which has Scanlon’s fingerprints on it.

Welch and Turk make a phone call to Scanlon’s unseen mob boss for instructions. They end up telling Scanlon he must remain locked up until after the next election, angering the gangster, who threatens to tell all. Welch and Turk then gesture toward a window and silently coax Scanlon to make a run for it.


Scanlon gets his hands on the murder weapon, but it’s been emptied of bullets by McQuigg, who had foreseen everything Scanlon would try, planting a cop outside the window as well. Scanlon is shot dead by Turk, who then is taken into a room with Welch by investigators bringing subpoenas. Irene leaves with Dave, indicating her interest in him. McQuigg goes home with his wife after a long day, aware that tomorrow will probably be just as busy.



Critical response

New York Times critic Bosley Crowther panned the film. He wrote, “In this consummation, however, the conflict of cop and crook is conspicuously unoriginal, considering the number of times that it has been contemplated on the screen since The Racket was first produced, and the staging of it, under the direction of John Cromwell, is dismally uninspired. Furthermore, the construction of the screen play by W. R. Burnett and William Wister Haines is so badly disordered toward the finish that it is almost impossible to perceive the intricacies of the planning by which the cop lures the crook to his doom. As a consequence, the collision of Mr. Mitchum and Mr. Ryan is a pretty dull one, in this instance marked mainly by exchanges of clichés, and the rest of the cast does little to add life to the activities.”


Variety magazine, on the other hand, gave the film a positive review, “This remake of Bartlett Cormack’s old play has been handled to emphasize clearcut action and suspense and the casting is just right to stress the rough and ready toughness in the script … Further masculine attention is gained through the strong work of William Talman as a rookie cop … Development is enlivened with some solid thriller sequences, such as a rooftop fight between Mitchum and a gunman, careening autos and crashes, and gunplay between the forces of good and evil.”

Writing recently, critic Dennis Schwartz was disappointed with the film, writing, “… this film didn’t have enough punch to be hard-hitting, as it softened all the things about widespread city corruption and made all the characters into one-dimensional types. All it had going were the action scenes and some gloss, as the original version was a much more effective film … The film is more reflective of the 1920s than the 1940s, unfortunately it’s set in the ’40s. This is a typical gangster film of that era but is dated and too murky.”


Probably of most interest to fans of Robert Ryan and Robert Mitchum

Author: Terrell-4 from San Antonio, Texas
3 February 2009
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Racket, no noir just a big city crime story, is as predictable as a fig newton. Still, in some ways the movie as like finding out at first bite that your fig newton is made with pumpkin.

Captain Tom McQuigg (Robert Mitchum) is a big, tough cop in charge of a go-nowhere precinct. He’s been bounced from precinct to precinct, not because he’s a failure but because he’s honest. His city is filled with corruption, vice, the numbers…you name it.


Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan), just as big a guy as McQuigg, just as tough and with a preference for violence, has run the city for years. Scanlon and McQuigg have a history that goes way back. Scanlon has the city under his thumb. It’s Scanlon who sees to it that McQuigg gets the worst assignments and the lousiest precinct. If McQuigg won’t play the game, Scanlon will make his life as hard as he can. Recently Scanlon has started a partnership with a big, out-of-town syndicate run by The Chief, a man no one knows. The Syndicate wants to grow opportunities in Scanlon’s territory and Scanlon wants more of the big-time. It’s a partnership as unstable as a one-legged man on a merry-go-round. And it looks like only Captain Tom McQuigg is determined enough and smart enough to stop Scanlon in his tracks.


There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done over and over. Director John Cromwell, however, keeps the clichés from bumping into each other too often. The story moves briskly along. But it’s Mitchum and Ryan who make the movie worth watching. They’re the unexpected pumpkin in the stale fig newton. Mitchum had finished his debt to society after his marijuana bust. Studio owner Howard Hughes wanted Mitchum in a role that would be on the side of the angels, with no fooling around on the other side. So Mitchum is a relentless good guy. He has no romantic interest except, seen one or twice, a good-looking, brave, supportive wife who Mitchum honors and loves. Mitchum’s McQuigg plays by the book and even gives a speech or two condemning corruption. He’s smart and clever, but his tricks to capture Scanlon are all aboveboard. Opposing him is Robert Ryan, who winds up playing a crook who is almost a psychopath. Scanlon cares for his younger brother, but slaps the kid around. He takes out inconvenient witnesses. He doesn’t mind ordering a cop killed and doesn’t mind doing the killing himself if need be. At times, he gets really, really mad.


Mitchum and Ryan were big men. When they face off with others in the room, the others look small. While this movie isn’t all that good, both men give solid performances and neither, in my view, is able to outshine or out act the other. Mitchum had plenty of star charisma by the time the movie was made. Ryan has plenty of actor charisma. I wound up watching them both and wondering what either of them would do next.

The Racket is not an especially interesting movie, but Mitchum and Ryan give it what class it has. They played together in Crossfire, a film worth watching, with both men contributing a lot to that good movie. Lizabeth Scott, given little to do as a nightclub singer who turns on Scanlon, makes what she can of a seriously underwritten part.

If you’re a Robert Ryan fan, you might be interested in these lesser known films of his: The Woman on the Beach, The Set-Up, On Dangerous Ground, Inferno and The Day of the Outlaw. They’re worth tracking down.


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