Thursday, 8 November 2012

Love is a Racket (1932)

While some early pre-codes can seem a bit disjointed or clearly emphasising sex to attract audiences, William Wellman’s “Love is a Racket” doesn’t fall into either trapping. Instead, there is a closely-knit narrative full of interesting, albeit not the nicest characters.

Jimmy Russell (Douglas Fairbanks Jr) is a reporter in love with an ambitious young woman, Mary (Frances Dee). When she confesses she has debts she can’t repay, and he tries to help, he seems to have arrived too late. A local gangster (Lyle Talbot) got there first…
One of things I absolutely loved is that there aren’t any real heroes here. Jimmy can do the honourable thing or not, but his choice is based on what’s most advantageous to him. The same goes for Lee Tracy’s character – although, if you have seen him once (no matter which film), he does his usually routine here: drunk, loud, expedite but loyal when pressed. Mary is really not as nice as she is pretty, and she easily stoops to use her charms to achieve what she wants out of men. And a special mention to Cecil Cunningham as Mary’s aunt, who clearly never heard of scruples. In fact, the closest to a nice character the film comes is Ann Dvorak’s Sally, who is an honorary “one of the guys” (and very much in love with Jimmy) but has not much to do (niceness doesn't pay?)...

The plotting is solid, with a few minor twists in the tale which really grabbed my attention, particularly one great scene involving a newspaper left behind which would have made Hitchcock proud. And (spoiler alert), if you take the comedy and the innuendos, the film covers some real menace: Talbot’s character wants Mary and will stop at nothing to get her (he starts with blackmail...).

I am surprised that this film is not better known. Wellman, is clearly in shape here and is celebrated enough to have had several of his films of the period released (Warner’s Forbidden Hollywood volume 3 includes only films of his).

1 comment:

Judy said...

Glad you liked this early Wellman - I definitely agree it deserves to be better-known. All the leads are great and there are some wonderful rain scenes! Sadly there are still quite a lot of his pre-Codes which haven't had a DVD release, even though there was the fantastic Forbidden Hollywood set and several have been brought out on Warner Archive.