Johnny Cool, 1963. 9.5/10

Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery star in this intense crime drama. Silva is Johnny/Salvatore Giordano, a Sicilian hit man who’s sent to the U.S. by crime boss Colini (Marc Lawrence) to take care of some loose ends–bump off recalcitrant mafioso. To provide a smokescreen, Johnny Cool’s death is faked. .

Also with Telly Savalas, Mort Saul, Jim Backus, and even Elisha Cook, Jr. (unsurprisingly, he’s an undertaker). Montgomery is Johnny Cool’s girlfriend, Darien/Dare. Thanks to some cameos, more cool’s provided by Ratpackers Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop.

In any case the opening song ‘Johnny Cool’ is uncool faux hipster-style. There’s some good background stuff to establish Colini’s mentoring of the young Salvatore in wartime Sicily. He saves his mom by pulling the pin on a German soldier’s hand grenade. Still, she’s killed by another soldier; he joins partisans headed up by Colini.

Wow, quite a segue, as we’re twenty years on, at a wedding. Some swells drive by in a Dual-Ghia; a Ratpack carriage, no doubt. Salvatore is a wanted man. An American correspondent is introduced. Reflecting on the war, Salvatore says “In war, you fight for yourself.” As if punctuating that statement, there’s an attack, apparently by the police, supported by the army.

Salvatore gets away, buf the other guy’s blasted. Strangely, it’s Salvatore who’s reported dead. It sas a set up–“the world thinks Giordano is dead.” That’s Colini, affecting to be a monk. He’s got something in mind. “You will be my son” if Salvatore will do Colini’s business. Not just for money, but Salvatore will “inherit my kingdom.”

Shazam! Salvatore is making the scene in America; he’s Johnny Cool in New York. And he meets Dare–in a bar, of course. She’s with her boss; Johnny meanwhile is busy dispatching some hoods. That gets Dare’s attention, but he’s “not buying” her. Among the skyscrapers, in a fancy office, the mobsters are convening with their boss, Vince Satangelo (Savalas), who is worried about Johnny popping up.

Now, we’re at the races with Johnny, and so is Dare. “What do you do for kicks?” she asks. Winning jillions on a horse. Later, at her place, he gets a call to meet up in a hotel room–sounds fishy. Well, a gambling den, actually. Complete with Sammy Davis, Joey Bishop, and a craps table. Johnny loses a few (thousand), and wins some, but hey, it’s just money . Uh oh, cops come to bug Dare about Johnny.

But they’re not cops, they’re hoods from the guys running the table games. Well, there’s mayhem–at the table and at Dare’s. Johnny’s pretty good with the karate. Davis has some magic in those dice. Johnny: “lets see an eleven.” Davis: “you wouldn’t settle for a seven, wouldja?” Johnny: “No baby.” When Johnny returns and finds that Dare’s been beat up by the goons he goes after them. Both get stabbed with a kitchen knife.

Time for Johnny to meet up with Vince. “I’m not here for a job. I’m here to take it all.” They talk about drugs, sources, etc. Oh, but Santanegelo, is a “legitimate” businessman. Right. Anyway, Johnny wants Dare to come with him. None too soon, as another bunch of thugs would’ve broke in on her again, if the lovebirds hadn’t just skipped out.

She’s made it to L.A. Now we see a board meeting, and a lobbyist or frontman for Santangelo. Looks like Johnny’s setting up Mr. Big at the train station. Santangelo, meanwhile, is busy huddling with assorted mafia dons. Johnny drives to Vegas–been a while since we’ve had the roulette wheel in action. He calls this guy Hinds (John McGiver); then we see Johnny cruising and schoomzing the tables and gamblers.

Undoubtedly, they’re cover for something. Well, actually, it’s Hinds that’s up to something. He holds a shotgun to Johnny. Mr. Cool shows his coolness by overwhelming the pudgy Hines. Then he has to blast an underling who offers that Colini called him a ‘brother’, and that the Sicilian don is using Johnny. He’s right.

Time to go back to Sicily and get even with Colini. Dare tells him, aptly, that “Johnny is a name. Giordano is a man!” Santangelo calls Colini, who disclaims all knowledge of and responsibility for Johnny. The cops huddle in Vegas, trying to finger both Santangelo and Johnny. Meanwhile, Johnny’s rigging a dynamite bomb for a guy named Crandall (Brad Dexter).

Hey, what a crazy poolside explosion! Anyway, the cool couple plans to rendevous in New York. To kill time, Dare goes to a hair salon, but inconveniently runs into a friend. Well, the friend’s party that night gives Dare an out, and she takes it. A swinging deal, with the twist the dance of the moment. Johnny is literally up to something now, taking a construction rig up the side of a skyscraper to visit Santangelo. (The ambush from the window thing was used to good effect in 1972’s Shaft.)

Who else is left for Johnny to kill? Well, he goes to a cathedral to see the grieving mafioso. He pays his respects to Satangelo (!); he wants, as usual, everything. And he now claims that he’s set up Colini into the bargain. So, is this something can’t be fixed?

Back on the West Coast, Dare wakes up from the party…and spills a few too many beans to Suzy. She “wants him so badly, that I’d grovel to him.” Despite knowing he’s a murderer. She calls one of the victim’s families to give up Johnny’s location there.

Unsuspecting, he comes to his supposed rendevous with Dare, only to find the widow instead. And tons of henchman. In captivity, his tormentors tell him how he’s going to be treated in Edgar Allan Poe terms After a scuffle, he finally gets stabbed. It’s up to Dare to tell the cops in L.A. that Johnny’s dead. “I killed him” she says, histrionically. An agonizing bit of the ‘Johnny Cool’ song, and we’re done with these dons.

This is much better than I thought if would be; the performances, the plot and pacing, the atmosphere and tone, were all of a piece and contributed to a great presentation. Usually, background scenes are awkward or unnecessary, but here they set up the main story without intruding on it. (the only detail they didn’t get right was ths German troops using an U.S. Jeep). Likewise, the segue to the ’60s in America was as quick as it was smooth.

Silva make a convincing hitman; and Savalas a sleazy but wary antagonist. Montgomery has the beguiling flair that works so well with her deceptive innocence. It’s just a bit hard to swallow her taking up with Silva’s character, though. I could see their mutual attraction, and the lure of living it up with a guy who basically lights a smoke with a thousand dollar bill. But, not being so easily duped, she quickly figures out that not only is her boyfriend a hood, but an integral part of an organized crime syndicate. She does stand up to him. And, most significantly, she leaves him.

Let’s just say she’s adventurous. The settings, obviously on location, are just what we need for an immersion in this outwardly glittery, but essentially tawdry lifestyle. The Sicilan backdrop does manage to establish the original purpose of the mafia as a sort of Robin Hood outfit: protecting and supporting the locals from invaders and occupiers.

This is the sort of movie that doesn’t seem as long as it is (1 hour, 43 minutes). That’s the script deftly moving things along; we meet hoods, Johnny mows them down. In this sense the plot is very simple. But there’s considerable variation in each guy’s demise, and therefore plenty of tension. And, although Johnny is definitely cool, he’s not superman, and his death is certainly not an easy way out.

The romance complicates things (the guys going after Dare to get at Johnny, her overall complicity, etc.), but it also adds considerable depth to the story. After all, without Dare, Johnny is more or less just a sociopath, even though an iconic member of a legendary group of them. His fidelity to her mirrors his first brush with violence–killing to save his mom.

This would just about be perfect if they’d ditched that wretched title song. The folks at the boat party doing the twist was cool; as it was genuine early ’60s pop culture. That tid bit is enough reason to watch Johnny Cool. 9.5/10

City Streets, 1931. 8/10

Crime drama with an interesting premise. A gangster, Pop Cooley (Guy Kibbie) hangs a murder rap on his daughter, Nan (Slyvia Sidney). She goes to prison; meanwhile, her boyfriend, known as The Kid (Gary Cooper), infiltrates the gang to avenge Nan. Maybe he gets too far in, because when Man gets out of the slammer, it’s no simple thing getting Kid back on track.

A real treat are the cutesy names for some of the supporting cast: there’s Big Fellow Maskel (Paul Lukas), Blackie (Stanley Fields), Pansy (Betty Sinclair), and Baldy (Bert Hanlon). Somewhat more in the mainstream, we have McCoy (William Boyd), the Police Inspector (Robert Homans) Esther (Barabara Leonard), and Agnes (Wynne Gibson). City Streets is based on a Dashiell Hammett story.

We start with Prohibition pipe line: beer trucks rolling, a bottling/ distillery, and, a payoff. Two groups of gangsters face off; look at all that beer in the barrel! Not only that, but the parting line, “no hard feelings” becomes a bit ironic, as one gangleader’s hat flows first in the barrel, and then in the Atlantic, where, no doubt, its owner ‘sleeps with the fishes’.

Pop Cooley comes out swimmingly on that deal; he glances in on Nan, who scoots out to a car and drives away. At the shooting gallery, she meets up with Kid, who can’t resist showing off. They amble around, as he can’t help winning various prizes for her.

At the beach, they cuddle “gosh, it’s great!” She muses. She wants Kid to get into her dad’s bootlegging business. Otherwise, they’d “have to live in a tent” if they got married. He’d rather be poor and honest. They argue, but make up.

When she gets home, Pops chides her for hanging out with the likes of the Kid. At a hotel, Pops sees Blackie tell off Big Fellow for hanging out with Agnes. Big Fellow asks Pops “If anything happens to Blackie, could you hold his mob together?” No problem for Pops.

So, Pops calls on Agnes and Blackie. Then he phones home, telling Nan to meet around the corner; he and Blackie are going to Joe’s. Hmm, the game is afoot. Dramatically, we see Blackie followed down the corridor by Pops’ enormous shadow.

Jan waits in an alcove, while the two guys pull up. Pops shoots Blackie, then hands the murder weapon to Nan for her to get rid of. She walks away from the scene as cops converge toward it. Unfortunately, an officer stops her. Meanwhile, Pops is at Agnes’s, going over his alibi with the cops.

Nan got caught anyway, and gets the business at police headquarters. They bring in Pops to ‘talk sense’ to her. But he tells to not give up the ghost “no one in the beer racket ever squawked on a pal yet”; he figures to trust her attorney to get her off.

So, she doesn’t talk. Pops shows up at the shooting gallery to recruit Kid. He tells Kid that the cops framed Nan; that’s not entirely made up, but leaves out the simple fact that Pops set her up in the first place. Anyway, she’s locked up for the murder, where she befriends Esther. Well, Pops convinced Kid to drive trucks for the racket.

Esther gets out, only to find that her Johnny has been killed in his own car. Ironically, Nan takes solace in her (mistaken) belief that Kid’s still clean. He visits her in prison; she’s chagrined to learn that he’s turned crooked. Not only that, but he admits “beer, I love it!” Then it’s her turn to get out of the ‘big house’.

At least Kid doesn’t get shot. Back home, she greeted by Big Fellow and good ol Pops. Dad’s disgustingly unrepenitent; possibly he was able to wangle an early release for her. She meets her new stepmom, Pansy. Kid calls Big Fellow ‘chief’. They plan a mob “coming out party” for her.

She wants to skip the party, and the mob in general; while he’s pretty much all-in. Swanky party anyway. They’ve effectively switched roles as far as mob stuff’s concerned. She tries to talk Big Fellow into laying off on Kid; Big’s basically trying to pick up on her. Agnes is not amused. But, Pops short changes his daughter again, encouraging Big to hit on her.

Kid isn’t any cool with that, but Nan warns him that Blackie was killed for less. “How about those two guys from Detroit?” Goes the idle men’s room chatter between Big and McCoy. Well, the wary couple has left already. The ‘bad’ bad guys roll up at Nans; stupidly, Kid goes to the door.

Ah, but it’s Kid who gets the drop on them. So much for the torpedoes from Detroit. Kid tells her he’s going to see to see the Big Fellow. She hesitates, but then calls Big. Looks like she’s planning an ambush of her own.

Yep, as Big takes Agnes around, Nan goes out on the street packing a pistol. Meanwhile, Kid searches for Nan at the club. Big kicks Agnes out; Nan closes in. He finds her gun. Agnes, lurking outside, sees him nuzzle up to her. Kid speeds across town, sensing trouble. Agnes peeps in the door just enough to grab the loose gun. Nan is framed again, as Agnes pops Big twice–then shuts the door, crying for help.

Kid gets there, believing Nan when she says that she didn’t do it. McCoy doesn’t agree; but when he asks who’s running the mob now, the guys guys agree that Kid does. He says that he’ll handle the situation. Calling Nan, he makes an arrangement with her; the gugs think he’s going to ‘take care of her’, permanently, that is.

McCoy confronts Agnes with evidence that Big was “giving her the air”. A packed suitcase is the tell-tale sign. Well, looks like a thrilling denouement in store. Kid and Nan, with a clump of gangsters in the back seat, chases a train at high speed. They barely make the crossing ahead of the train. He’s scaring the heck out of them; it works because he has Nan cover them while he tells them to tbrow their guns out the windows.

That accomplished, he stops. He tells them they’re gonna walk home. Plus, by the way, guys, it was Agnes, not Nan who pulled the trigger on Big, and he’s out of the beer racket. Take that. The end.

This works fine, because the Nan/Kid romance is very compelling, and the gangster stuff is equally powerful, in its way. The authenticity was spot on, as, of course, as City Streets was made during Prohibition. Although we see little actual racketeering, except at the beginning, and in bits here and there, the criminals are convincingly dangerous and deadly.

Big Fellow would seem to be the evilest guy here, but actually, Pops is worse. Not only does he allow his daughter to be framed more than once, he’s got this smug debonair attitude about it. So, we get the nervous henchmen, ths out-and-out thugs, and the gentleman sociopath. On the other hand, there’s the powerless victims, Pansey, Esther, and Agnes (who turns victimizer).

This leaves Nan and Kid, who are definitely worth rooting for. Both of them are flawed, but each finds redemption; they find that their love is what’s worth having. Cooper and Sidney’s performances are excellent, and the supporting cast shows a variety of interesting personalities.

The pacing moves the plot along without dwelling on distractions. There’s plenty of space for tension and suspense to build, as these folks manuver around each other, leaving some bodies to step over. Entertaining and involving, City Streets is well worth a look. 8/10.

Crime Of Passion, 1956. 7/10

Stirling Hayden, Barbara Stanwyck, and Raymond Burr star in this noirish drama of a love triangle. Bill (Hayden) and Kathy (Stanwyck) are married, but she gets bored with her apparently contented husband, and has a one-night thing with his boss, Tony (Burr). Which means trouble.

We see that Kathy is that bane of the ’50s woman mindset–she’s independent and ambitious. Nonetheless, this newspaper woman falls in love with the detective (Bill) who solves a big murder case. But hanging out with the other cops’ wives is literally no picnic for Kathy; when’s Bill getting that promotion, anyway? Who does she have to sleep with to make it happen?

With Fay Wray as Burr’s wife, Alice; Virginia Grey and Royal Dano as the Alidos, Sara and Charlie; and Robert Griffen and Dennis Cross as a couple of detectives, James and Jules.

Were in San Francisco, passing newspaper billboards featuring Kathy’s image, obviously to boost readership. Then, into her paper’s office. Her boss wants her to check on an L.A. homicide–it’s concerning a wife (Mary Dana) who killed her husband. Next thing, were in the press room at police H.Q. The L.A. cops, Alidos and Doyle, have the case that’s the hot topic.

Captain Alidos comes in with Bill; they’re so-tight lipped that Alidos’s biggest comment is that Kathy should bag it and keep house. Anyway, thanks to Kathy’s advice column, the elusive Mary surfaces; warranting another, slightly more cordial visit from Alidos and Doyle. She gives the Captain the address she has for the suspect.

But, she sends Alidos on a wild goose chase; she wants Bill to get credit himself, so she saves the straight dope for him. They’re instantly attracted to each other, so after the Dana business is wrapped up, Bill and Kathy go out to dinner. He’s got to catch his plane “I’m glad I met you. I like you.” An airport barroom kiss.

What’s this? She’s taking a new job in New York. Hey, Bill calls…can she stop over in L.A.? He fixes it so she can. He basically sweeps her off the runway, and into city hall for a marriage ceremony. Somewhat incongruously, the Captain and his wife are the best man and maid of honor (or just witnesses). Right away things are a tad underwhelming, as Kathy doesn’t seem very excited with their new place together.

Obviusly, she’s ditched her career for him. Anyway, the cops’ wives are soon hanging out with Kathy; she’s hardly even faking being interested. She doesn’t fit in with them, and can’t cross over to where ‘the guys’ are busy playing cards. Plus, Bill can’t even have lunch with his wife without being pestered by work. The next dinner party, Tony’s name comes up; meanwhile, Kathy melts down from the banality.

That night, she stays up pondering things. “Don’t call me ‘angel’! I loathe it!” She tells Bill, who looks in. “Is this what you have to look forward to? This mediocrity?!” He just want to make her happy. “I just want you to BE somebody.” Isn’t he, though?

Although the limited role for women in this era is certainly a major theme, Kathy’s out-and-out greed is something quite different. That’s not feminism, but insatiability. And, materialism isn’t the bad guy here, it’s the paltry amount of it. The well-constructed and convincing independent woman theme is more or less in the dust bin.

Anyway, she’s up to something, staging an accident. She almost hits Alice Pope, the object being to meet her, as an entre to meeting her husband, the Inspector. Soon she’s getting her nails done with Alice, and hatches a scheme (a party) to schmooze Tony. Ironically, just the sort of gab-fest that she usually can’t stand.

The party comes off; Bill even has the chance to talk up the Commissioner. Tony chats up Kathy. He basically stirs the pot by hinting that her ambition isn’t sufficiently satisfied. Rather oddly, he invites her to his office. They seem to be sizing each other up. She does admit that she’s at loose ends. She takes the big step of letting him know that she’s more or less available to discuss intriguing cases (!).

That night she tells Bill that she wants him to quit; and segue to the less-demanding Beverly Hills police. It doesn’t make sense, as he’d have to start all over again. He agrees, because “The only way to make me unhappy is to stop loving me.” All of a sudden, Tony has taken an interest in his career; so Bill won’t resign, but we know something Bill doesn’t.

Uh, oh, there’s a note questioning her commitment to Bill. She has to explain that it’s probably Sara’s doing, and fingering Tony. Well, Bill’s not a happy camper. At HQ, Charlie gets punched by Bill. Great, now Bill’s in the hot seat, with Pope presiding. Actually, Jules and James more or less cover for Doyle. In this inquiry, Pope sounds very much like Burr’s later incarnation as Perry Mason.

The upshot of all this is Alicia’s is transferred, and Bill’s temporarily promoted. Next bit is someone calling on Kathy at night–of course it’s Tony. Now it’s his turn to gripe, about Alice. Same story as with Bill and Kathy; Alice is going nuts dealing with being a cop’s wife. “All those [good] years, where did they go?” he laments. Hey here’s an idea: Tony retires, Bill takes his place. A win-win?

They make out. Instead of that sealing the deal, however, Tony and Alice are suddenly reconciled. Kathy can’t have that; she and Tony arrange to meet up. He shows at the restaurant; he feels bad about their recent encounter, and out of loyalty for Bill, not to mention professionalism, the “pillow talk” deal is off. In fact, in a complete reversal, he’s putting Charlie up for the promotion.

She nearly faints in the restaurant. Next morning, she’s a complete jerk with Bill. Later, at the fights, they have to leave; same old ‘duty calls’ thing. A pretty gross shoot-out is recounted at the station. The desk sergeant mumbles about crime and murder. She leaves, but stakes out Tony’s home. “I’ve got to talk to you! It’s important!” She yells at him. Kind of carelessly, he lets her in.

She goes on and on, “I beg of you!” He’s not being magnanimous. So, she plays her last card–a gun. Boom, no more Tony. Driving furiously up in the mountains, she does finally get home. Now what? There’s Bill. She gets in bed just quick enough to fool him. Of course, Tony’s body is discovered. Meaning Bill is notified. Just now she’s the most affectionate that she’s ever been with him.

At HQ, ironically, it’s Bill giving orders about not leaving a stone unturned to catch Tony’s killer. She calls HQ (no answering machines then), as Bill looks at photo of the fatal bullet. He calls her to ask her to stay with Alice; hmm, comfort the widow of the man she’s shot? Well, Bill’s forensic skills are perfect: he IDs the bullet as from the same gun as one taken in the heist discussed earlier–in other words, it was stolen from HQ.

The cops huddle: what could’ve happened to the missing gun? Indirectly, Bill pieces everything together. At home he simply says “what did you do with the gun, Kathy?” She confesses. Well, he brings her in. To that same desk where she stole the gun. That’s it, the end.

Strangely, although the story covers plenty of territory (Bill and Kathy’s entire relationship), it goes sort of slow, especially in the middle. Had we begin with them as newlyweds, we’d have a lot more room for scenes showing Kathy’s disenchantment with married life, her the effects of her pushiness on Bill, and, especially the fling with Tony.

As it is, the beginning isn’t integrated well into the rest of the movie. It’s as though the career woman role just morphs into the trapped-in-suburban-conformity theme. Obviously the two are related, but the change is so abrupt that it’s almost like two movies lashed together.

Having cut this up that much, there’s plenty to like: the stars each give strong performances, and are very well-suited to their roles. Hayden is uncharacteristically passive, though; he never reacts much to Stanwyck’s demands, except by giving in. In fact, he never figures out what happened between her and Burr’s character. There’s no Bill and Tony face-off, and not much follow-up on Bill’s discovery of the ‘do-tell’ letters.

Tony is the most interesting one here. He’s alternatively menacing, intimidating, creepy, dishonest, and loyal. The strongest scene is his ‘courtroom’ investigation of the Bill/Charlie confrontation, in which Tony shows most of these traits.

Stanwyck has the amorality tinge of some of her other roles. Other than their initial romance, Hayden and Stanwyck spend more time avoiding each other than being cozy.

Crime of Passion takes a weighty premise and a great cast and comes up with a decent drama; it just doesn’t scope out its angles clearly enough to make a stronger impact.