Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special! #22: Racket Squad pt. 1

Just Enough Information: Racket Squad, which ran in syndication in 1950 and on CBS from 1951 until 1953, starred Reed Hadley as Captain John Braddock, head of the racket squad in a large metropolitan police department. Braddock and his men were charged with busting up cons and scams, criminal enterprises which separate more marks from their money than violent crime.

Like Joe Friday in Dragnet, Braddock narrates his own stories, and like Dragnet, the show claims its stories are based on true case records from police departments around the country. How true they stay to the record is something else again, for reasons which I hope will become painfully obvious in just a moment.

Another difference between the two, if this entry is any indication, is while Jack Webb made sure everybody dialed their performances down, Racket Squad doesn't shy away from ACTING! It feels very much like a B-movie in places, which only makes sense coming from Hal Roach Studios.

The series was also parodied as a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, Bunco Busters, which more people my age have seen than the actual item. Buckle in, kids. This one's going to be interesting.

The Christmas Episode: “The Christmas Caper”. Original Broadcast: December 25, 1952.

Braddock tells us that tonight’s story is going to be a little different, first because it’s The Christmas Episode, and secondly because “It put me on a spot I never wanted to be put on again. I had to arrest Santa Claus.”

He then introduces us to Charles Dooley, a loopy retired man who really loves the neighbor kids…and since it’s 1950s TV, not in the way where they have used the doll to show the psychiatrist where he touched them. He’s just a cheerful old man living alone, and the kids can’t get enough of him. He touches them in the heart, man.

After reading them “A Visit From Saint Nicholas”, one of the little wise guys asks Dooley who Saint Nicholas is, and that’s when it comes out that Santa Claus doesn’t visit poor kids in The City. To them, Christmas is a time when mom gets your shoes resoled, or maybe a new shirt. So Dooley gets out a pencil and helps them write letters to Santa, making the wicked mistake of planting hope in the rocky ground of grinding urban poverty.

In fact, the mother of one of his favorites confronts Dooley (in a non-confrontational way) about setting the kids up for heartbreak, and he feels so bad about it he decides to get a job so he can make their Christmas dreams come true. Fortunately, he happens across the only place in the want ads that is supplying seasonal work for easily confused old men.

Unfortunately, these guys are fronting an “organization” which claims to hire bell-ringing Santas for the various charities. They also introduce themselves as Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. Um, that’s what you’re going with guys? You really couldn’t crack open a phone book and do better? Sure, it worked for Doctor Who, but that’s because he’s awesome!

For reference: The balding doofus is Smith. The seated doofus is Jones. As if that made any difference. Note the lack of similarity to Doctor Who.

Soon Dooley is ringing his bell on the street corner when a man in a suit starts peppering him with questions about the organization on his sign, the bogus Society for Deserving Poor Children. Dooley gives the man a string of runaround answers which, in his capacity as a member of the Conference for Organized Charities, he takes to Captain Braddock. Braddock decides he’s going to cover this one personally.

Give to the deserving poor children! Because those undeserving poor brats aren't getting a free ride this year! (Not connected with the Association to Cure All Known Diseases Forever And Ever.)

(And yes, the rest of this description is LOADED WITH TOXIC LEVELS OF SPOILERS, because once again the ending is a real jaw dropper. This is done for your well-being as much as mine.)

Braddock ends up staking out Dooley, and since “Smith” actually knows what he’s doing, he ditches the entire haul for the day in Dooley’s bucket so when he gets collared (which happens in short order) he’s only caught with an empty satchel. We can skip ahead from here to the point where both the crooks are rounded up and Dooley returns to the office to find out (from an unfortunately stereotyped black janitor) that the whole thing was a scam and the cops just put the Yuletide Agency out of business. And that’s when Dooley loses his mind by deciding that he’s going to steal the ill-gotten gains FOR THE CHILDREN!

And yes, the janitor is a comedy relief, in case you were too ashamed to ask.

Meanwhile, Braddock has finally gotten Dooley’s address out of “Smith”, so Braddock and another detective make their way to his apartment...and that’s when Braddock goes off his nut, too.

Braddock walks in on Santa giving out all of his presents to his little friends, and after being pulled aside discreetly Dooley Claus is prepared to go quietly, but first he begs the chance to present one more present. Remember that little girl who was sitting on Dooley’s lap in the first picture? His favorite? She's been hobbling around on leg braces through the whole heartwarming scene, so just to stack the deck, Dooley’s last present is a big stack of bills to start a fund for her operation.

Left: little girl who needs an operation. Right: Braddock learns the true meaning of letting a collared accomplice off the hook for the holidays.

Dooley makes his exit and surrenders to Braddock, but Braddock shocks everyone by declaring that Dooley didn’t steal the money after all! Wait, what? The loophole-but-not-really that he uses is that Dooley collected that money for needy children, and that is who he spent the money on, so no crime. Then he ups the ante by kicking in for the girl’s operation and gently strong-arming his subordinate to do the same. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. Case closed!
I SAID CASE CLOSED! See? I stamped the file and everything! Can’t take it back now…

And remember, this story was based on true case records. Just like that movie Fargo!

Our Holiday Lesson For Today: Every petty crook gets one mulligan on Christmas. Go on! Try it yourself! (WARNING:

Spot 'Em: (added 12/27) The janitor was played by Willie Best, one of the many African American actors who did what he could with the crappy hand he was dealt by the prevailing conditions for people of color in golden-age Hollywood, sometimes billed under the infamous alias Sleep 'n' Eat. Bob Hope called Best one of the finest comedic talents he ever worked with, which makes you wonder what Best could've done on a more level playing field.

But Don’t Take My Word For It: Youtube, take me away…

Next: More Racket Squad!

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