Love Is A Racket is something I picked up from Warner Archive a couple of years ago just because of that title. It’s just as snappy as the movie itself, a brisk, 71-minute adventure though Broadway’s seedy underworld with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and director William A. Wellman at the wheel.
Fairbanks stars as Jimmy Russell, a New York Globe Broadway gossip columnist. He’s like Walter Winchell, except a bit softer. He’d much rather be sleeping until 5 in the afternoon and spending time with his girlfriend Mary (Frances Dee). He gets tangled up in Mary’s affairs, since she’s racked up unpaid bills and has gangster Eddie Shaw (Lyle Talbot) interested in her. Thankfully, Jimmy has two pals to help him out – fellow reporter Stanley (Lee Tracy) and Sally (Ann Dvorak), who hangs around because she’s got a crush on Jimmy.
If you think this might be some pre-code version of Sweet Smell of Success, you’d be mistaken. The film isn’t much more than light entertainment, since it moves too fast to give Lee Tracy and Ann Dvorak anything really interesting to do. You can’t really have developed subplots in a 70-minute movie.
Love is a Racket also isn’t one of Wellman’s great achievements, but it has his knack for finding humor in the grit of urban life at the forefront. The movie never feels like it drags and there’s nothing overly salacious in it that distracts from the story. (Yeah, the first real shot of the movie might be Frances Dee putting her stockings on, but that’s about as risque as this one gets.)
My favorite gag is at the very end of the movie, when Fairbanks gives this great camera-wink speech about how “Love is a racket.” It really sums up what I love about short movies from the ’30s – they make their point and don’t belabor it. You’re not saying “Get on with it already,” because by the time you start thinking that, the movie’s over already.
Love is a Racket was released on DVD by Warner Archive in 2013. The DVD also includes a trailer.