Monday, January 30, 2012

Carole Joins the Rackets

If you've seen Singin' in the Rain, then you are familiar with the comic take on the beginning of sound films.  The Racketeer, from 1929, is a serious example of this phenomenon.  In it, Carole is a former society lady named Rhoda Philbrook, who left her husband for a violinist Tony (played by Roland Drew). Only problem is, Tony is a drunk and now Rhoda is reduced to cheating at cards in order to get enough money to live.  While working the tables, she meets the racketeer of the title, Mahlon Keene (Robert Armstrong).  He is smitten with her, and eventually offers her marriage.  Thinking her life with Tony is over, she assents. But then, her life gets complicated.

By today's standards, this is not a good film. It is static and somewhat boring at times; resembling in some ways a filmed play (with a lot less movement).  BUT it is an excellent sample of how the survivors of silents were coping with the advent of sound.  Of course, the actors don't move very much.  The film is very talky, but you can see the beginning of something great.  Lombard is lovely here, and quite comfortable in the new mode (though some vestiges of silent film acting remain).  Armstrong (who never has been a favorite of mine), is fine as Mahlon.  He is stiff, but that is probably the camera restrictions.

So, while there is not a lot to in this film to make it appealing, do give it a look. It is a window back into the past - a baby step in the growth of a new industry.  TCM had a very nice article about the film during a Lombard festival.

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