Johnny O’Clock (1947) Robert Rossen
I spent part of the time I watched Johnny O’Clock thinking how awkward it would be to have a name like Johnny O’Clock, merging a person with a time, or maybe thinking silly thoughts of people shouting lines like, “It’s Johnny Time!” (To make things more wacky, there’s at least one watch involved in the film.) All the while there’s this great movie going on with so many plot points spinning in the air you don’t have time to dwell on the ludicrousness of the film’s title. I’ll try to summarize the plot, but don’t be surprised if I simply give up after a couple of sentences:
Johnny O’Clock (Dick Powell) and his partner Pete “Guido” Marchettis (Thomas Gomez) own an illegal gambling casino but all is not well with the personal side of business. Pete’s wife Nellie (Ellen Drew) is still attracted to her former lover Johnny, who really wants nothing at all to do with her. Soon the casino’s hat-check girl Harriet (Nina Foch) is asked by Johnny to return a watch – given to him as a present by Nellie – back to Nellie. Harriet is also dumped by her corrupt cop boyfriend Chuck (Jim Bannon), then apparently commits suicide by gas inhalation.
Harriet’s sister Nancy (Evelyn Keyes) gets into the act, investigating her sister’s death. A police inspector named Koch (Lee J. Cobb) tries to sort the whole mess out while Johnny is thrown together with Nancy.
There’s an awful lot to keep track of and at times the plot borders on the ridiculous. Although it surprised audiences at the time, few actors could deliver hardboiled dialogue quite like Dick Powell, who earlier in his career was cast in musicals and romantic comedies. Playing Phillip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (1944) changed all that and led not only to film noir roles in Johnny O’Clock, but also films like Cornered (1945), Pitfall (1948), Cry Danger (1951) and others. Johnny O’Clock has a little bit of everything you need for a good film noir: tough talk, hardboiled dialogue, deception, murder, a crooked cop, a femme fatale, and more, aided by a great cast and Burnett Guffey’s cinematography. A film well worth your (ahem) time.
Next: Blake Edwards made lots of films beside the Pink Panther movies. This one might surprise you.
Photos: Vintage 45, Coins in Movies, All Movie, TCM