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Forty-five year old Edmond O'Brien played a former Broadway star who
becomes a private detective. Presumably Johnny Midnight was his stage
name, not his birth name. Johnny lives in a plush Manhattan penthouse
with a stunning view of the city. Johnny has a wise-cracking young
Japanese man for a "houseboy". A haunting version of "The Lullabye of
Broadway" was the theme song. Johnny Midnight narrates his adventures
in the classic Bogart/MacMurray style. The best thing about this series
(other than O'Brien) was the title Johnny Midnight: what a great name
for a noir character!
The producers of "Johnny Midnight" reportedly refused to hire an overweight Edmond O'Brien for the role unless he went on a crash vegetarian diet. Maybe the reason Johnny Midnight retired from Broadway stardom was his weight problem. However, O'Brien seemed to carry the weight easily and made a fine, rather dashing middle-aged hero.
Edmond O'Brien always straddled the line between character actor and leading man. He was memorable as the insurance investigator in "The Killers" and as an undercover cop after James Cagney in "White Heat". But O'Brien's tour de force role was as the poisoned CPA Frank Bigelow, who tries to find out who murdered him in the classic film noir "DOA". O'Brien was convincing in every department of that exceedingly demanding role. His narration and his sweaty and energetic acting kept the tension unrelenting. In reviewing the remake of "DOA", Siskell and Ebert both agreed that Dennis Quaid was a much better actor than Edmond O'Brien. I was dumbstruck by the comment. To me O'Brien was mesmerizing and Quaid seemed to have no emotional reaction at all to his impending doom. "DOA" is one of the great film plots like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". It cries out for another, better remake and an actor of O'Brien's stature in the lead.
"Johnny Midnight" was a thirty-minute show produced by Revue (later Universal Studios) in 1960. Other 30-minute detective shows produced by Revue at the time were "M Squad" with Lee Marvin, "Johnny Staccato" with John Cassavetes, "Mike Hammer" with Darren McGavin, "Markham" with Ray Milland, "Shotgun Slade" with Scott Brady and "Coronado 9" with Rod Cameron. All these shows were very professionally done but relied heavily on the charm and talent of their lead actor. Edmond O'Brien was always awfully good company, and "Johnny Midnight" is underrated.
O'Brien had two more series. At the age of 47 he gave a forceful performance as flamboyant San Francisco attorney "Sam Benedict" (1962) in an hour long drama. And O'Brien was excellent as Will Varner in a TV version of "The Long Hot Summer" (1965) with Roy Thinnes as Ben Quick, Nancy Malone as Clara Varner, Lana Wood as Eula and Ruth Roman as Minnie. O'Brien left "Summer" when the producers decided to focus on relative newcomer Thinnes, who was also exceptional. Dan O'Herlihy replaced O'Brien. O'Brien never played leading man roles again after taking on the role of Will Varner at the age of 50.
O'Brien managed to keep his film career alive at the same time that he was all over television. Some of his memorable 1960's films were "Seven Days in May" (Oscar nomination), "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", "The Longest Day" and "The Wild Bunch".
"Johnny Midnight" was the first time I saw O'Brien, and I have searched out his work ever since.
I enjoyed the comments of the previous writer, but had seen 90% of
O'Brien's films before getting this series on DVD. Although not nearly
in the class of the great Peter Gunn, it is still an excellent drama
that I rate alongside the equally cool M Squad with Lee Marvin. I will
definitely try and track down O'Brien's later series as well. It would
be great to see these old series released on single Blu-Ray disks in
the future although I doubt it will happen. It would be worthwhile
re-releasing all the great 40-60s series on Blu-Ray with the ease of
shipping single disk series around the world. And I hope this is one of
them as the DVD set I have is only about 6/10 quality.
All in all well worth anyone's time. The series also has some excellent actors in guest roles....
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