[box cover]

The Racket

Film noir had two archetypal leading men, and they're best personified by two Roberts: Mitchum and Ryan. Mitchum's zen-like cool is the ying to Ryan's yang, the all controlling anti-hero who eventually shows the cracks in his façade. The duo worked together twice in the genre, first in 1947's Crossfire (for which Ryan received his sole Academy nomination), and again in 1951's The Racket. Seeing the duo battle against each other has the electricity of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino squaring up in Michael Mann's Heat — though here Mitchum and Ryan actually share a frame. Mitchum plays Captain Thomas McQuigg, a cop whose career has gone poorly because he's tough on crime. And the main person who's kept him down is Ryan's Nick Scanlon, a mob boss who used to be buddies with Mitchum back in the old neighborhood. But Scanlon's been having tons of problems as his power is crumbling: Higher-ups want him to be more business-like and less thuggish, his brother is dating a singer (Lizabeth Scott), and now McQuigg is breathing down his neck because McQuigg's got a cop as a witness to a murder Nick plotted. Directed by John Cromwell, The Racket is more theoretically interesting than entertaining — it's a brief 82 minutes, but there are some interesting ideas that get lost in a fairly rote procedural. The main interest is Ryan's Scanlon, simply because he has the more interesting character. Mitchum's police captain is happily married and is simply going about his duty, while Ryan is the one who explodes in two incidents that seal his fate. The first is when he laments to McQuigg that he's been taking care of his no-good brother to keep him out of the life, and the second when he's so enraged and at wits' end that he commits murder himself. Ryan is an ace in this part — he'd played this type enough to have it down pat, and he's both intimidating and weak. Only someone of Ryan's great gifts could make the character work — in other hands these scenes would simply be plot devices instead of the heart of the performance. And both Mitchum and Ryan transcend the material, giving some fascination to this modest B-picture. Warner's DVD release of The Racket, part of their "Film Noir Classic Collection: Vol. 3," offers a serviceable transfer in the original full-screen ratio (1.33:1) and Dolby Digital 1.0 audio (with optional English, Spanish or French subtitles). Also on board is a commentary track by film historian Eddie Mueller and the film's theatrical trailer. Slimline snap-case in the box-set.

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