YouTube Spotlight: Johnny O’Clock
Back in the day, you had to rely on late-night TV or cable, or fork over your hard-owned dough for VHS tapes and DVDs in order to experience the shadowy world of film noir.
But no more.
All you need now is access to the internet and you can dive headfirst into a veritable noir feast on YouTube which, for those of you who may not be acquainted with it, is a free video sharing website. Created in 2005, the site is now one of the most popular on the World Wide Web – visitors reportedly view more than six billion hours worth of videos every month! And among those billions are countless full-length noirs, from well-known classics like Detour (1945), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), and D.O.A. (1950), to obscure features starring performers that you’d never expect to find in a noir, like Jimmy Lydon (Henry Aldrich!) and Warren William in Strange Illusion (1945).
For this month’s Noir Nook, I’m starting up a new series that shines the spotlight on first-rate noirs that can be found on You Tube. For my inaugural post, I offer you Johnny O’Clock (1947), starring Dick Powell.
In the 1930s, Dick Powell rose to fame as a crooner in more than 30 Warner Bros. musicals, but over time, the actor grew frustrated with his casting as the “eternal juvenile.”
“It got so I’d get a part, do my songs, and then do my best to forget all about the darned pictures,” Powell once said. “I made four or five of those things a year – and always the same stupid story. I just wore different clothes.”
In 1945, when he landed the lead in Murder, My Sweet, Powell got the chance to point his career in a whole new direction – and he never looked back, offering filmgoers a series of characters that couldn’t be more different from his former glamour boy image. Two years after Murder, My Sweet, Powell starred in his third film in the noir canon – Columbia’s Johnny O’Clock (1947).
In Johnny O’Clock, Powell plays the title character, a gambling house owner described by one character as the type of guy who “looks at a situation, says ‘What’s best for me?’ and acts accordingly.” Smooth, debonair, and cool as the other side of the pillow, Johnny’s unflappable demeanor is shaken when he finds he’s suspected of killing a dishonest cop (Jim Bannon) and his naïve girlfriend, Harriet Hopson (Nina Foch). In addition to the always-watchable Johnny, the film is peopled with a variety of fascinating characters, including Johnny’s gambling casino partner, Guido Marchettis (Thomas Gomez), who tries unsuccessfully to mask his rough edges with pricey possessions; Guido’s wife Nelle (Ellen Drew), who is Johnny’s ex-lover and still has the hots for him; Harriet’s beautiful but fearless (and somewhat reckless) sister Nancy (Evelyn Keyes); Charlie (John Kellogg), Johnny’s loyal right-hand man who may not be quite as loyal as he appears; and Inspector Koch (Lee J. Cobb), the relentless detective who’s determined to solve the murders. (And keep your eyes peeled for a brief appearance by a young, uncredited Jeff Chandler, in his second big screen role).
Rife with plenty of hard-boiled dialogue, appropriately shadowy scenes, and a typically labyrinthine noir plot, Johnny O’Clock is well worth your time. Tune in to YouTube and see for yourself!
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
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