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Ruthless hood Johnny Eager is pretending to his parole officer that he has chucked the rackets and is now a full-time taxi driver. In fact, he's as deep in as he ever was and desperately needs official permission to open his new dog track. When he meets up with Lisbeth Bard, he finds he not only has a stunning new girlfriend but a possible way to get his permit. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <email@example.com>
In one of the bedrooms in Johnny's apartment at the track is a large painting, done in the art deco style, of a reclining blonde woman. Coincidentally, this same painting is featured briefly but prominently in Eyes in the Night (1942), released the same year and also starring Edward Arnold, referred to in that film by Marty as "a blonde tomato." See more »
In the scene where Johnny is asking Benjy about the cop that won't let him put in slot machines, Benjy hands him a note with the cop's badge number (#711) on it which he unfolds before handing to Johnny. Then we see Johnny unfolding it again. See more »
(Also known as "Melancholy Baby" and "My Melancholy Baby")
Music by Ernie Burnett
Played during the opening and closing credits
Played as dance music by the band at Tony Luce's place
Played as background music often See more »
Little-known crime story with two big stars and an Oscar-winning performance
Johnny Eager is an ex-gangster parolee who needs to hide his current criminal activities. He's a classy gangster and always knows how to get what he wants. He runs a dog racing racket and has henchmen to do his dirty work. He seems to have everything figured out until he meets a girl who figures him out but still falls in love with him. A guy like Johnny Eager can't have a respectable dame like her falling all over him, right? Johnny Eager doesn't fall in *love*.
Robert Taylor stars in the title role and is very good as the classy criminal. The lovely Lana Turner plays the love interest Liz Bard. This was still relatively early in Turner's career. She'd feature in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941) the same year, but make more of an impression later on in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946). Turner's character is a key component of JOHNNY EAGER, but she spends considerable time offscreen.
Van Heflin won the Oscar for playing Jeff Hartnett, a well-read alcoholic and Johnny's best friend and confidant. He's not interested in the criminal activities, but he keeps Johnny company, offers him advice, and keeps his secrets. A selfish crook like Johnny Eager knows nothing about love or sympathy, but even Johnny Eager needs a friend.
Heflin would go on to such movies as SHANE (1953) and 3:10 TO YUMA (1957) in the 1950s, but he actually won an Academy Award for this film early on in his career. Heflin's performance was my favorite part of the movie and he deserved Oscar recognition. He really stood out among the ensemble. His character is always half-drunk, but functional, honest and prone to colorful literary quotations. The performance is subtle and nuanced compared to the rest of the cast. Heflin is able to convey different emotions throughout the movie and even takes a punch, falls to the ground, rolls around, looks up, and leaves, all in (if I recall correctly) one shot.
(Other viewers have pointed out undertones with Heflin's character that are there if you want to take 'em or leave 'em. The film works fine either way.)
A big-time racketeer who uses people for his own advantage, Johnny doesn't understand love and has no real friends except Jeff. He'd never even had a pet dog growing up. Johnny Eager is like an emotionless robot, until Liz comes along. In the end it is Johnny's newfound shred of humanity that ultimately leads to his downfall. (I guess. The ending never made 100% sense to me.)
JOHNNY EAGER is an enjoyable little film from 1941. Part gangster movie, part film noir lite. I really don't know how best to classify this one. But it has somehow fallen out of the public consciousness, available only by on-demand DVD from Warner Archive and occasionally on TCM. It's hard to understand why, since it's a decent enough movie with two notable stars, Robert Taylor and Lana Turner. And it's an OSCAR_WINNER! One would think people would be interested in seeing the film that provided the Best Supporting Actor of 1941, Van Heflin's shining moment.
I caught this on TCM recently and I'd recommend checking it out if you have the time. It's not essential viewing, but it's worth a look. Catch it when you can.
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