The first couple of reels may be tough going, but once you get past the lunking Howard Hughes-imposed Nicholas Ray-directed prologue, The Racket turns into a surprisingly engaging and gripping crime drama. Structurally it's certainly unusual, probably as a result of Hughes' typical interference - it's more than 17 minutes before Mitchum makes his entrance, and there are some sporadically awkward crosscuts to inserts shot by Ray and others after John Cromwell (who co-starred in the play the film was based on in the 1920s) had left. Robert Ryan is surprisingly not quite there for once: not exactly bad, but somewhere between phoning it in and, in his early scenes at least, possibly drunk on set - his timing is slightly askew, his usual excellent instincts abandoned along with his sense of proportion in moments that are just a little over the top. But there's so much to admire that even the unlikely escalation of the feud between the two protagonists is carried along. There's a fine shootout in a garage, a neat car chase that sees the cops plough through a billboard for a mob-backed political candidate and a terrific death scene at the end. The supporting cast are intriguing too, with William Conrad's cop and Ray Collins' DA both corrupt but not so entirely that they're lost causes: they exist in a gray area that throws the leads into sharper relief.
Eddie Mueller's audio commentary on the Region 1 NTSC DVD that's part of Warner's Film Noir Classic Collection Volume Three is quite excellent and well worth listening to, but is absent from the UK PAL DVD.