The Axis changed that equation. Everyone was expected to do their bit, and those that didn't were as bad as Adolf & company. By trafficking in rationed goods, hoodlums became really bad guys.
|No joke, I swear I saw this same set|
in another rubber racket movie.
|If that were me, I'd apologize for getting|
in his way, but that's the kind of a wimp
Gilin, the titular rubber racketeer, is a first-class villain just by his very business. But he hits a real low near the end. His Chinese-American servant, Tom (Tom?), has joined the Army when he returns on a 24-hour leave to serve him coffee. (I don't know about you, but if I were on leave, that wouldn't be the first thing I'd think of doing.) Now Tom was cool when Gilin was in the bathtub gin racket or hijacking other gangsters' goods -- that was business. But when he gets wind of Gilin's new operation, he tries playing to
|Bill at work. Wouldn't you|
love a job like his?
|"Stop! Or I'll shoot the ceiling!"|
As with many B-movies of the time, Rubber Racketeers makes use of location shots in downtown L.A., always a pleasure for a guy like me still waiting for that time-travel machine to become available at Costco. Minimal traffic, big mountains, tall palm trees, clear skies, no smog -- this was heaven, with or without ration cards. One scene takes place on the corner of Hazelhurst and Findlay -- two honest-to-gosh Los Angeles streets. Gilin and Nikki stop off for a nightcap at the Club Tally Ho, which appears to be authentic, and wash down a few rounds of French 75s. That's what I'm ordering the next time my moll and I bend elbows at our favorite watering hole. I just want to see how quickly we get thrown out.
Rubber Racketeers showcases two actors on the way down, with two others biding their time before gaining TV immortality. For reasons unknown, Ricardo Cortez (the star of the original Maltese Falcon) had gone from starring in A's to coasting in B's by 1942. Still, his thin, sneering lips and dark eyes made him perfect for a hood like Gilin. Perhaps it's just my perception, but he seems to be fully aware he's better than the material he's given here, while giving it his all anyway. That's a pro.
As for Rochelle Hudson (Nikki), she should have gone on to big things after co-starring with W.C. Fields in Poppy six years earlier. Instead, movies with titles like She Had to Eat, Babies for Sale and The Stork Pays Off were in her future. Yet these are exactly the kind of pictures I'd watch anytime; in fact, I've seen Babies for Sale, so I know from whence I speak. I'm sure Ms. Hudson is looking down gratefully at me from that big soundstage in the sky.
Then there's Gilin's henchman Angel, played by Milburn Stone (left). Stone was just a journeyman actor until landing a 25 year-gig as Doc on Gunsmoke. Alan Hale, Jr., son of the great Warner Brothers character actor (both pictured right), and who plays Bill's friend Red, had a similar CV by the time he signed on to play the Skipper on Gilligan's Island. (Note to all aspiring actors: Stone and Hale had been making movies a combined total of 45 years before landing their hit series.)
But without doubt the most arresting supporting actor of the bunch is John Abbott as the, er, mentally-slow henchman who answers to the name Dumbo. Actually, he doesn't answer at all, since he seems incapable of speech. Looking like Pat Paulson's deranged great-uncle, Abbott spends most of the time twisting rubber around his fingers while his eyes appear to stare in two different directions simultaneously. Suffice it to say, he's a striking presence, although I don't know what good he'd be as a gangster's sidekick. And talk about bad luck -- the actor was briefly blacklisted during the 1950s because fellow-blacklistee Dalton Trumbo used the name "John Abbott" as a pseudonym. Sorry 'bout that, John!
I'd been waiting for Rubber Racketeers to turn up since buying the poster back in my more carefree days. I can't say it lived up to my expectations, since I'm not sure I had any to begin with. But from the clever opening credits, divided by rolling tires, to the finale when Nikki machineguns a V (for Victory) around a caricature of Hitler, Rubber Racketeers proved a fine hour's entertainment, and a reminder that when the rubber meets the road, it better be real.
And the recipe for a French 75, according to Esquire magazine:
- 2 ounces London dry gin
- 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 5 ounces Brut champagne