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The Racket

The Racket(1951)

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According to a March 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, Senator Estes Kefauver, who at the time of this film's production was head of the Senate Crime Investigating Committee, pledged his cooperation on the making and presentation of the picture. The 1950-51 Crime Investigating Committee, also known as the Kefauver Committee, probed the workings of organized crime and proved that it existed on a national level, primarily in the form of two "families," a Chicago-Miami family headed by Tony Acardo, and a New York-Miami family headed by Joe Costello. The committee documented the paper trails of known gamblers, exposing their illegal interstate commerce through the sale of wire services. Although no hard, indictable evidence was collected, testimony before the committee revealed that these syndicates were also involved in legitimate businesses and attempted to control their competition through extortion and other strong-arm tactics. For more information about the Kefauver Committee, see the entry above for The Kefauver Crime Investigation.
       Reviewers noted that the committee's findings legitimized the film and helped it overcome censorship problems. According to information in the MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS Library, early drafts of The Racket faced strong opposition from PCA director Joseph I. Breen. In a November 27, 1950 letter to RKO executive Harold Melniker, Breen rejected the first draft as "thoroughly and completely unacceptable under the provisions of the Production Code." Breen described the script as "shocking" and a "new low in crime screen stories," and urged RKO not to pursue the project further. On November 30, 1950, however, Breen submitted to RKO a long list of suggestions on how to make the story acceptable. Objecting strenuously to the depiction of the film's "community" as "completely lawless," Breen recommended that violent scenes and moments, such as the burning of "Higgins'" body, be eliminated, and that judges and other public officials be characterized as honest, with few exceptions. In addition, Breen insisted that "Irene" not be portrayed as a prostitute. By mid-December 1950, Breen approved a revised version of the script, on condition that all references to prostitution, particularly comic ones, be removed, and that the ending make clear that "Turk" is to be punished for killing "Nick." In the final film, Irene is a portrayed as a legitimate entertainer, and both Turk and "Welsh" are served with subpoenas after Nick's death.
       Hollywood Reporter news items add the following information about the production: In May 1950, Sam Fuller was assigned to work on the film's screenplay and was considered as a possible director. Shelley Winters was announced as the picture's female star in January 1951. Nicholas Ray directed added scenes in late June 1951, and during the filming, producer Edmund Grainger filled in as director for a day. Although a post-production news item announced that RKO composer Paul Sawtell was working on the production, he was not listed in the onscreen credits; his contribution to the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources Howard Petrie and William Forrest to the cast. Production files contained at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library indicate that location shooting took place in North Hollywood, downtown Los Angeles and the RKO Ranch in Encino, CA.
       The first screen version of Bartlett Cormack's play, the 1928 film The Racket, also was presented by Howard Hughes and was directed by Lewis Milestone. Thomas Meighan and Louis Wolheim starred in the earlier version, which focused on the exploits of a bootlegger (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30).