“Love is just a mental disorder.”
Love is a Racket is an enjoyable pre-code film. Unlike most pre-code films this film is light, but of course there is a murder and the murderer never gets caught and there is a mystery involved.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. plays Jimmy Russell. Jimmy writes for the New York Globe for the theater section called “Up and Down Broadway.” The section is a gossip section for what is happening in the world of theater. With the help of his friends Stan (Lee Tracy) and Sally (Ann Dvorak) as “witnesses” every week they sit at Sardi’s waiting for something to happen or see some Broadway stars so Jimmy can report it.
Jimmy is currently seeing an aspiring actress named Mary Wodehouse (Frances Dee). He is totally smitten with Mary but she is more interested in her career. One day Mary comes to Jimmy with a problem, she has written checks for stores with no money in the bank for them to clear. Mary needs Jimmy help she figures he might be able to pull to some strings and see if the checks can clear at a later date. When Jimmy goes to some of the stores the employees tell him that the checks have been paid for by a man. The reporter figures it must be a man named Eddie Shaw (Lyle Talbot). Shaw is a gangster who is currently involved in a racket involving bad milk (I am not making this up. The character is head of a racket involving the selling of bad milk) and a reporter friend of Jimmy’s at The Globe is covering it.
Shaw has been sweet on Mary for some time which is why he paid the bills for her. He is the last person she would ever want to pay for her things. Now the gangster wants the actress to come up to his apartment one night. Mary does not want to go and neither does Jimmy or her Aunt Hattie.
After receiving a cable that was made to be as if Shaw had sent it from Atlantic City telling Jimmy to come down to work things out, Jimmy is just able to get back to New York in time to get to Shaw’s penthouse before Mary was set to be there. But when Jimmy gets there he sees someone walk out of the penthouse in a hurry and hiding a gun in a flower pot. When he gets inside he sees Shaw dead from a gunshot. Jimmy rearranges the room and plants the dead man’s fingerprints on glasses to make it look like Shaw had been drinking and then he dumps the dead gangster’s body over the balcony to make it look like the man was drunk and fell over.
The conclusion of the story I liked because it was not what you think would happen in a love story. The killer depending on how you see it is someone you would not expect.
Although I liked the story I did not find it that strong and the dialogue is a bit silly at times but it full of great cynicism and sarcasm. The four leads definitely give the story and the dialogue a boost. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was very good as Jimmy. I think Fairbanks Jr. is underrated as an actor. He was perfect as the foolishly in love reporter trying to save his girlfriend. He may not have been handsome or as talented as some of the other leading men during the 1930s but in the films I have seen with him I think he did very well with his leading ladies and the material he was given (the first film I ever saw him in was Having a Wonderful Time with Ginger Rogers and that film was not too great but I liked Fairbanks and his character). Dvorak I do not believe I ever saw her in a film before Love is a Racket. I liked her as Jimmy’s sidekick Sally. At the beginning of the film when Sally is introduced she and Jimmy have a kind of brother-sister relationship but she really likes him. When Jimmy introduces Mary to her she responds “Oh fine. Just a touch of leprosy”. Dvorak was sarcastic and carried it off well. Frances Dee plays Mary. Just looking at Dee you are not surprised that a man like Jimmy would be totally in love with her she is so pretty. One scene where I thought she did a great job is when Jimmy kisses Mary very long and deeply and she falls to the couch and gives a sigh. Tracy gave a great comedic performance as Stan. He had all the funny lines and kept the film light.
Love is a Racket is a good entertaining, fast paced pre-code film. It was acted very well and the story is a bit different from other pre-codes. For all the film’s entertainment and acting value it is a shame that it is not well known today.
The film is not available on DVD or on YouTube. If TCM ever airs the film again give it a watch.