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Johnny Angel sets out to learn who hijacked a gold shipment from his father's ship and killed his father, the captain. He is joined in the search by Paulette, whose own father has been killed by the hijackers. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
As George Raft and Signe Hasso begin walking through the shadows toward and onto the covered bridge, one of the first shadows is the shadow outline of the cameraman on the lift basket as he films from above. See more »
Put Humphrey Bogart in the title role and this would be remembered along with the likes of "The Maltese Falcon," and "The Big Sleep" as a true classic. With George Raft as the lead it's not quite a classic but still damn close. Frankly I was expecting a B movie and was simply knocked out by how good it was. I'm not going to dump on Raft the way some others have because, while unquestionably a limited actor, he did have a solid presence about him and is undeniably effective at times despite his obvious limitations.
Raft is at his best when he's asked to be tough, relentless and decisive. He gets into trouble during those scenes where he's required to be scheming or thoughtful; saying one thing while thinking another. Let's just say he's not real big on nuance. That hurts the latter half of the film where the audience really needs to FEEL his escalating outrage, impatience and thirst for revenge (such as Dick Powell is able to convey in the classic 1945 film noir "Cornered.") The way Raft plays it, what you see is what you get. Everything is on the surface. You assume he's only romancing Claire Trevor's femme fatale to find out more about his father's murder, but Raft doesn't give you the subtext. It just seems like a lackluster and rather puzzling liaison, considering how angry and anxious he had previously been to uncover the truth.
But Raft is much more inspired throughout the first portion of the film and actually does register true pain and regret over his beloved father's death as he's roaming the - supposedly - deserted ship. (A Nosferatu-like premise that sets a truly eerie, haunting tone which never lets up.) And his no nonsense, take no prisoners search to find the killer showcases Raft at his very best. An early scene with fragile Signe Hasso where he brutally interrogates/romances her absolutely crackles, and culminates with a great film noir line. Just before Raft wipes away a tear from Hasso's face he growls, "Looks like rain."
But the true star of this film is director Edwin Marin. Talk about painting with light - this is one of the most gorgeously photographed, most visually arresting films I've ever seen. It just OOZES mood and atmosphere - not to mention some serious post-war disillusionment. And Marin's camera work is equally stunning as he tracks and pans and zooms and frames each shot in fresh, exciting ways. It's one of those movies where "The Past" is almost an actual character always lurking in the shadows that NO ONE can escape. But what else would you expect from something with a quintessentially cryptic noir title like "Johnny Angel"?
In fact I wouldn't be surprised if Alan Parker wasn't paying homage to this little gem with his not dissimilar, equally unsettling "Angel Heart", also set in New Orleans. Mickey Rourke's character in that 1987 film was also named, I believe, Johnny Angel.
Early on a floozie throws herself at Raft and he brushes her off. She complains to no one in particular with a shrug - "Looks like Angel is wearing his halo tonight."
You want noir? THAT'S noir.
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