Love Is a Racket (1932)

Director:

William A. Wellman

a racket indeed

24 December 2007 | by blanche-2 (United States) – See all my reviews

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. decides that “Love is a Racket” in this 1932 film directed by William Wellman and also starring Ann Dvorak, Frances Dee and Lee Tracy. Fairbanks Jr. is Jimmy Russell, who writes a Broadway beat column. He’s in love with a young actress (Dee) who finds herself in debt to a criminal and asks Jimmy for help.

The story is okay, with a twist at the end. What impressed me the most is how underrated Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is. He’s just wonderful here, as he has been in many other films – perhaps he never got that one breakthrough role. He was in an era of stultifying competition – Errol Flynn, Brian Aherne, David Niven, Ronald Colman – but acting-wise, he was very versatile, talented and charming.

The acting overall is quite good and doesn’t suffer from some of the melodramatic work seen in early films.

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Ann Dvorak

Cynicism draped with roses

6/10
Author: krorie from Van Buren, Arkansas
16 April 2006

This almost seventy-five year old programmer holds up amazingly well due in large part to the skilled acting of the leads, a witty script that keeps everything lighthearted, and the masterful direction of William A. Wellman. The title may sound silly but if the viewer watches the entire film, “Love is a Racket” is explained by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at the very end via a harangue on the ephemeral nature of romantic love.

Filled with cynicism draped with roses Fairbanks learns about love from all the wrong people, in particular from the wily, ambitious Mary Wodehouse (Frances Dee), who has been spoiled rotten by her Aunt Hattie Donovan. Seems Mary has been bouncing checks and wants Jimmy Russell (Fairbanks) to bail her out. When he attempts to retrieve the hot checks by asking the holders to wait a while before cashing them, he learns that a mobster has picked them up already. When Jimmy finds the mobster dead, he takes possession of the checks and makes it all look like a suicide unawares that his columnist buddy, Stanley Fiske (Lee Tracy), is watching.

This little gem from the early days of the Great Depression is well worthwhile and still entertaining even after seven decades.

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Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

“And if I felt half as good as you look, I’d go out and kill myself while it lasted.”

8/10
Author: imogensara_smith from New York City
29 January 2009
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw LOVE IS A RACKET at the Museum of Modern Art on a dismal, rainy, slushy winter day, and it is exactly the bubbly pre-Code cocktail I would have dreamed up as the ideal entertainment for such a time. The plot—some nonsense about a “milk racket” and a flock of rubber checks—is merely a flimsy scaffolding for all the fun stuff. This flick has everything: non-stop slang and snappy patter, great music and settings (many scenes take place in Sardi’s, or a reasonable facsimile thereof), gratuitous leg art, a practical-joke-loving goon, and a gotten-away-with murder. Loath to waste time on exposition, the movie just plunges us into a world of racketeers, Broadway babies, and reporters who wake up at 5 pm, go on the town, and come back to do a little furious two-finger typing before dawn.

loveisaracket5

If this is a pre-Code movie about reporters, then logically it must feature Lee Tracy. Sure enough, though he isn’t the star, he’s the hero’s best pal, and he’s at his shamelessly scene-stealing best. He gives every small moment a riveting flourish: juggling a telephone and a shaving brush; body-checking another reporter to get to the phone; declaring his love for Ann Dvorak through a mouthful of steak (“Say, if you loved me half as much as you love that steak I’d surrender just out of pity,” she replies tartly); hamming up the agony as he climbs into a cold bath in his pajamas to win a $50 bet; delivering lines like, “Well I’ll be a double-jointed son of a…Bulgarian acrobat.” But Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. holds his own in the lead, helped by a perfect profile, a twinkle in his eye and a sense of mischief. He has some sexy moments and also some very funny ones, like when he curtsies to a “pansy” dress designer, or announces that he’s “going to get what was known among the ancient Athenians as ‘swacko.'”

loveisaracket13

Ann Dvorak’s role gives her little to do besides hang around vainly hoping Doug will notice her, but she does get some nice, biting lines, as when she replies to her rival’s polite how-do-you-do, “Oh, fine. Just a slight touch of leprosy.” Frances Dee looks luscious and wears the cat-with-the-cream expression of a girl who knows her face will get her whatever she wants. Lyle Talbot, dressed as usual in black tie and a light coating of slime, plays the gangster who runs the milk racket, and delivers the movie’s best line (see the subject line above) when he makes a heavy play for Miss Dee.

The most mind-blowing scene is set in a ravishing art deco penthouse where hot jazz plays on the radio (“Hittin’ That Bottle”) while the hero discovers a corpse and covers up the murder in a shocking, ruthlessly clever way. Under the froth, this is an astringent movie. Fairbanks’s reporter has zero interest in taking on corrupt forces for the public good; it might be bad for his health, or at least his ability to get a good table at Sardi’s. A cold-blooded murder is shrugged off because, after all, the guy deserved to die. And Fairbanks concludes the film with a brilliant speech about why “Love is just a mental disorder”: it makes you waste your money, lie awake at night worrying, wait two hours for dinner when you’re “hungry as a toothless timberwolf,” and generally make an errand-boy and a fool of yourself. He vows that he will never again fall for one of these lady “racketeers.” Somehow, with Ann Dvorak standing by, I have trouble believing him.

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The title fits the film perfectly

9/10
Author: Shawn Stone from Albany NY, USA
2 October 1999

This seedy, downbeat Broadway tale of love, money, ambition, and power makes for an entertaining film. Credit director William Wellman’s felicity with the fast-paced Warner Bros style for the no-nonsense, snappy approach. Douglas Fairbanks Jr is very fine as the hardbitten gossip columnist with a fatalistic, romantic side, but Lee Tracy, Ann Dvorak, Frances Dee, Warren Hymer, and, especially, Cecil Cunningham as the conniving Aunt Hattie, do their best to steal the film. And, as this is a pre-code movie, who says a character can’t get away with murder?

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“And if I felt half as good as you look, I’d go out and kill myself while it lasted.”

8/10
Author: imogensara_smith from New York City
29 January 2009
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw LOVE IS A RACKET at the Museum of Modern Art on a dismal, rainy, slushy winter day, and it is exactly the bubbly pre-Code cocktail I would have dreamed up as the ideal entertainment for such a time. The plot—some nonsense about a “milk racket” and a flock of rubber checks—is merely a flimsy scaffolding for all the fun stuff. This flick has everything: non-stop slang and snappy patter, great music and settings (many scenes take place in Sardi’s, or a reasonable facsimile thereof), gratuitous leg art, a practical-joke-loving goon, and a gotten-away-with murder. Loath to waste time on exposition, the movie just plunges us into a world of racketeers, Broadway babies, and reporters who wake up at 5 pm, go on the town, and come back to do a little furious two-finger typing before dawn.

113344

If this is a pre-Code movie about reporters, then logically it must feature Lee Tracy. Sure enough, though he isn’t the star, he’s the hero’s best pal, and he’s at his shamelessly scene-stealing best. He gives every small moment a riveting flourish: juggling a telephone and a shaving brush; body-checking another reporter to get to the phone; declaring his love for Ann Dvorak through a mouthful of steak (“Say, if you loved me half as much as you love that steak I’d surrender just out of pity,” she replies tartly); hamming up the agony as he climbs into a cold bath in his pajamas to win a $50 bet; delivering lines like, “Well I’ll be a double-jointed son of a…Bulgarian acrobat.” But Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. holds his own in the lead, helped by a perfect profile, a twinkle in his eye and a sense of mischief. He has some sexy moments and also some very funny ones, like when he curtsies to a “pansy” dress designer, or announces that he’s “going to get what was known among the ancient Athenians as ‘swacko.'”

vlcsnap-2016-09-23-06h54m34s920

Ann Dvorak’s role gives her little to do besides hang around vainly hoping Doug will notice her, but she does get some nice, biting lines, as when she replies to her rival’s polite how-do-you-do, “Oh, fine. Just a slight touch of leprosy.” Frances Dee looks luscious and wears the cat-with-the-cream expression of a girl who knows her face will get her whatever she wants. Lyle Talbot, dressed as usual in black tie and a light coating of slime, plays the gangster who runs the milk racket, and delivers the movie’s best line (see the subject line above) when he makes a heavy play for Miss Dee.

The most mind-blowing scene is set in a ravishing art deco penthouse where hot jazz plays on the radio (“Hittin’ That Bottle”) while the hero discovers a corpse and covers up the murder in a shocking, ruthlessly clever way. Under the froth, this is an astringent movie. Fairbanks’s reporter has zero interest in taking on corrupt forces for the public good; it might be bad for his health, or at least his ability to get a good table at Sardi’s. A cold-blooded murder is shrugged off because, after all, the guy deserved to die. And Fairbanks concludes the film with a brilliant speech about why “Love is just a mental disorder”: it makes you waste your money, lie awake at night worrying, wait two hours for dinner when you’re “hungry as a toothless timberwolf,” and generally make an errand-boy and a fool of yourself. He vows that he will never again fall for one of these lady “racketeers.” Somehow, with Ann Dvorak standing by, I have trouble believing him.

love-is-a-racket-1932-william-wellman-l-lt6psi

pretty good D Fairbanks jr flick

7/10
Author: ksf-2 from southwest US
14 December 2007

A “pretty good” starring role for the dashing Douglas Fairbanks jr, who had good movies and bad movies. Here, he is a newspaper reporter Jimmy Russell, trying to catch a gal who cannot seem to settle down. Co stars are Ann Dvorak (Merrily we Live and Three on a Match) and Frances Dee (Little Women, Human Bondage), and Lee Tracy (Dinner at Eight), who has a most interesting biography on his page on IMDb. Oddly, we don’t really know much about his character in this movie… he’s just kind of there. Dedicated black- and- white- movie watchers will see Eddie Kane and Gino Corrado, who play waiters at Sardi’s restaurant – they were assistants or sidekicks in just about every movie made since dirt was invented. Of course Russell (Fairbanks) has an adversarial relationship with his newspaper boss (although this film probably pre-dated most of the others that used that ploy)…. and there are a couple of other hard to believe things going on here, but I won’t spoil any plot monkey-business. Watch for the cool telephone gadget at the very beginning….and a long, lecture on love and life at the very end.

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