Racket, The (1951): Film Noir Remake, Starring the Genre’s Iconic Actors Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan, and Directed by Cromwell and Others

John Cromwell is officially credited with directing The Racket. a routine remake of the noir crime of 1928, but at least four other helmers contributed to the final cut, including Nicholas Ray, Tay Garnett, Sherman Todd and Mel Ferrer.

Though featuring three of the genre’s most iconic actors–Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Lizabeth Scott–the film is muddled due to the many directors and writers who had worked on it.

Grade: C+ (**1/2 out of *****)


The Racket
1951 the rackt poster small.jpg

Theatrical release poster

The film, a remake of the 1928 film The Racket, is based on the play by Bartlett Cormack play, in which the young Edward G. Robinson played the racketeer in the original Broadway production.

Ryan plays Nick Scanlon, a racketeer and mobster who has managed to bribe some of the local government and law-enforcement officials.

However, he can’t influence the incorruptible police captain Tom McQuigg (Mitchum), who refuses his attempts at bribery.

As the city’s prosecuting attorney Welch (Collins) and state police detective Turk (Conrad) are also crooked, they make McQuigg’s job impossible.

McQuigg persuades sexy nightclub singer Irene (Scott) to testify against Scanlon, which makes her marked for death by the mob. McQuigg wants to nail Scanlon, and stops the mob corruption in the (unnamed) city, without getting himself or his witness killed.

When a bomb explodes near McQuigg’s home, scaring his wife Mary, things get worse.

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, held in protective custody, and kills Johnson in cold blood. Later on, after car chase, Scanlon is arrested.

McQuigg ignores the gangster’s lawyer, ripping up his writ of habeas corpus, since he gets the gun that killed Johnson with Scanlon’s fingerprints.

Scanlon gets the murder weapon, which has been emptied of bullets by McQuigg, but is shot dead.

In the unconvincing “happy” ending, the two couples reunite. Irene leaves with the reporter Dave. And McQuigg goes home with his wife, aware that tomorrow may bey be just as busy and messy as any day.

Watching this movie, you wonder if it would have been more creditable if the two Roberts switched their roles.

Inevitable comparisons were made with the original The Racket, a Best Picture Oscar nominee, which was more effective and powerful than the remake in every respect, even though it was made in the early sound era, and thus reflecting the prevailing primitive technology.

Even so, compromised as it is, the movie has its moments, serving as a sampler of a studio made picture, in which its head, Howard Hughes, exercised too much control.

The changes from one scene to another are often abrupt, and the lack of truly authentic noir atmosphere might have been a necessary result of having too many cooks, both directors and writers, contributing to a single picture.

Robert Mitchum as Captain Thomas McQuigg
Lizabeth Scott as Irene Hayes
Robert Ryan as Nick Scanlon
William Talman as Officer Bob Johnson
Ray Collins as District Attorney Mortimer X. Welch
Joyce MacKenzie as Mary McQuigg
Robert Hutton as Dave Ames
Virginia Huston as Lucy Johnson
William Conrad as Detective Sergeant Turk
Walter Sande as Precinct Sgt. Jim Delaney
Les Tremayne as Harry Craig – Crime Commission chief investigator
Don Porter as R.G. Connolly
Walter Baldwin as Booking Sgt. Sullivan
Brett King as Joe Scanlon
Richard Karlan as Breeze Enright
Tito Vuolo as Tony, Nick’s Barber


Directed by John Cromwell, with uncredited work from Nicholas Ray, Tay Garnett,
Sherman Todd, and Mel Ferrer
Produced by Edmund Grainger
Screenplay by William Wister Haines and W.R. Burnett, based on the play by Bartlett Cormack
Music by Paul Sawtell
Cinematography George E. Diskant
Edited by Sherman Todd
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures

Release date: October 25, 1951 (Philadelphia); December 12, 1951 (US)

Running time: 89 minutes
Box office $1.75 million (US rentals)


TCM showed the movie on October 10, 2020.