The 1928 version of THE RACKET, a silent produced by a twenty-three year old Howard Hughes, was one of the nominees for best picture(though it was called Most Outstanding back then) at the very first Academy Awards ceremony. It lost out to Wings. The film was directed by Lewis Milestone who two years later directed All Quiet On The Western Front and was based on a play that opened on Broadway in 1927 ans closes shortly before the film came out. It starred Thomas Meighan as Captain McQuigg, an honest cop intent on bringing down a powerful bootlegger named Nick Scarsi(Louis Wolheim, who went on to appear in All Quiet On The Western front). But Scarsi owns every corrupt politician and judge in town.
Scarsi wants to move in on a rival bootlegger’s territory and is pushing his own candidate for the coming Mayoral election. Both the rival and McQuigg get word of the plans and at a party all attend for Scarsi’s son, who the father has kept away from the rackets, Scarsi shoots and kills the rival. Even though a gun is found in the rival’s handkerchief, that he was holding up toward Scalsi, MCqigg has him arrested and he’s out almost before the ink dries on the paperwork.
Tired of messing with MCQuigg, unable to scare him off, Scarsi uses his influence to get the cop transferred out into the sticks.
A blond nightclub singer named Helen Hayes(Marie Prevost) tries to move in on the son, Joe(George Stone), at his party and is warned off by Nick, calling her a gold digger. He doesn’t like women, always having trouble with them. Joe of course pays no attention and hooks up with Helen. They drive away and Joe clumsily tries to put some moves on Helen. She rejects him and gets out. A cop comes along, wanting to help the young woman and Joe drives hurriedly off, clipping a woman in the process, and gets arrested for hit and run.
McQuigg has his in to get at Scarsi.
A quick word about the son Joe. George Stone played him all wrong. Supposedly an innocent kept away from the bootlegging business, both Stone’s look and acting style made him seem like a sleazy little creep.
Howard Hughes went on to remake THE RACKET in 1951 with Robert Mitchum playing McQuigg and Robert Ryan playing tyhe bottlegger, Nick Scanlon this time. Need to find this one as it had a few other notables in significant roles. William Talman and Ray Collins are better known for their roles as Hamilton Burger andTragg of the Perry Mason series. Willian, Conrad also plays a cop.
A final note. Long thought lost, a print was found after Hughes’ death in his film collection. It’s the only original copy left. It was restored by University of Nevada, Las Vegas film department and first broadcast on Turner in 2004.
For the latest in overlooked films and related matters, as always, check in on Todd Mason on Tuesdays over at SWEET FREEDOM.