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Joseph H. Lewis
Dame May Whitty,
Johnny O'Clock is a film about a man who walks the narrow edge of the fence between the legal and illegal. He's partners with Thomas Gomez in an illegal gambling establishment and they've got a crooked cop in Jim Bannon to do their dirty work insofar as rivals are concerned. Bannon's made several 'legal' killings of rivals which has interested honest cop Inspector Lee J. Cobb who wants very badly to close this particular racket down.
Dick Powell plays the title character who never quite gets involved in the dirty end of the business leaving that to Gomez. Bannon's girl friend is Nina Foch, a nice young woman who runs the cigarette and candy counter at Powell's swank hotel. When Foch turns up a very suspicious suicide and Bannon goes missing, Powell goes into action.
The other factor in the story is that Powell and Gomez's wife Ellen Drew were once involved and she'd like to get involved again. Powell ain't buying that trouble though, especially after Evelyn Keyes who is Foch's sister comes to town and she also suspects foul play.
Powell's character Johnny O'Clock is one of his most cynical, he makes his Philip Marlowe from Murder My Sweet look like Dudley DooRight the Mountie. His cynicism almost costs him because he finds a damning piece of evidence that could lead to the murderer and if would have cooperated with Lee J. Cobb from the gitgo it would have all been solved. But Powell's got other irons in the fire and some conflicting motives. In any event he does a great job in the title role.
Making his screen debut in a small part as one of the gamblers is Jeff Chandler. His hair is dark, but would shortly turn that premature iron gray that he was so identified with. There is also a very good small part for Mabel Paige who plays a nosy neighbor of Foch's who keeps offering her unwanted observations and opinions to Lee J. Cobb.
Robert Rossen was one film away from his career film as a director with All The King's Men. Powell was impressed with his work and personally had Harry Cohn get him as director for Johnny O'Clock. Rossen creates a moody and trenchant atmosphere for his players to work in and gets a near perfect noir film out of this material.
And that's a good reason to not miss Johnny O'Clock when it is broadcast.
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