The Racketeer (November 9, 1929)

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Carole Lombard and Robert Armstrong in The Racketeer
 

Released on November 9, 1929: The biggest racketeer in New York City likes poor society girl Rhoda, and helps her broke violinist friend in order to get closer to her.

Directed by Howard Higgin

The Actors: Robert Armstrong (Mahlon Keane), Carole Lombard (Rhoda Philbrooke), Roland Drew (Tony Vaughan), Paul Hurst (Mehaffy, policeman), Kit Guard (Gus), Al Hill (Squid), Bobby Dunn (The Rat), Budd Fine (Bernie Weber), Hedda Hopper (Mrs. Karen Lee), Jeanette Loff (Millie Chapman), John Loder (Jack Oakhurst), Winter Hall (Mr. Sam Chapman), Winifred Harris (Mrs. Margaret Chapman), Robert Parrish (street urchin), Phillips Smalley (roulette player).

 

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This movie features legendary Carole Lombard before she was 'Carole,' and before she created the first screwball dumb blonde character that is still being copied today. In this early talkie she teams again with Robert Armstrong. The movie premiered on Saturday, November 9, 1929. About a week and a half earlier, on Tuesday, October 29, 1929 the New York Stock Exchange fatally crashed, sending the world into the Great Depression and ending the rock and roll money and good times known as the Roaring Twenties. But even though the Great Depression had officially begun, this movie was finished before, and although it concerns a broke society girl, it is not because of the recent stock market crash and the resulting depression. This movie assumes that the good times are still rolling along. We watch prohibition era gangsters and New York society folk and the honest, or almost honest beat cop interact in fascinating ways.

Our movie opens with a drunk on the street corner trying to play a violin and being harassed by some little kids. Mehaffy the beat cop chases the kids away, and is about to arrest the drunk vagrant when top New York gangster Mahlon Keane gets out of his limo and passes by. Keane is a likable racketeer, and when the cop tells him that he is about to run the drunk into jail for drunkenness and vagrancy, Keane smiles and as he pulls a fifty dollar bill from a fat roll of money and tucks it into the vagrant's pocket he tells the cop that with fifty bucks in his pocket the man is hardly a vagrant. He suggests that the cop get him a cab and a ride to the Y.M.C.A. to recover from his drunken binge. As Keane is walking away another car stops and a young lady jumps out of the car and rushes to the vagrant. Keane turns and watches as she gets the vagrant into her cab and takes off with him, and the fifty dollar bill in his pocket.

Later that evening racketeer Keane is in black tie at a society gambling event for charity when the same young lady appears at the door. It turns out that she is a 'used-to-be' society girl married to a wealthy man, but she left her wealthy husband in favor of a concert violinist, who has become a drunkard, and she is now penniless. Rhoda is seated next to Kean at a poker table, and she pulls out the fifty dollar bill from her purse to buy chips and play cards. Keane notices immediately that she is playing with the fifty that he put in the vagrant's pocket, but says nothing. Rhoda wins a lot of money by cheating, and near the end of the night she is caught cheating, but Keane helps her cover her tracks so that she isn't found out. This is the setup for the story, all you need now is the general path leading to the deadly ending.

From here on out, wealthy racketeer Keane befriends Rhoda and her boyfriend drunkard violinist, getting the violinist dried out and off of the illegal booze. Rhoda still loves the violinist, but is starting to have feelings for the racketeer Keane also, who is portrayed as a very nice racketeer. This leads to that, and on a fateful Friday afternoon all of the karma from these three players and Mehaffy the beat cop will intersect, and one of them will not be around for THE END. The violinist is going to play at a big concert funded by Keane, and then begin a nationwide concert tour that will insure his ongoing success. Keane and Rhoda are going to the concert, and then will board a ship bound for Paris. They will be married and spend their honeymoon in Paris. Ahhh, but what about Mehaffy the beat cop and his involvement with this trio of characters? Pop a nice big bowl of white kernel popcorn and drizzle plenty of butter on it and settle in for a great early cops and robbers tale of love, ambition and life in the big city.