Friday, April 06, 2007

Movie: Johnny Cool (1963)

Sicilian bandit Henry Silva is “adopted” by an exiled Mafia kingpin, schooled in the ways of the Syndicate, then dispatched to America to wreak bloody vengeance.

The film, based on a Gold Medal paperback by John McPartland, perfectly captures the spirit of those pulp novels. It’s filled with hard men, harsh violence and wild passion, all of it capped by a truly twisted ending. What’s amazing is who’s behind the camera: William Asher, a veteran of I Love Lucy who would go on to direct several AIP beach party movies and almost a third of the episodes of Bewitched.

Silva has always been an odd actor, but here his stoic, implacable quality is a bonus; he’s essentially playing a zombie, doing another man’s bidding. Producer Peter Lawford found room in the movie for Rat Pack running buddies Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis, Jr., who’s great as an icy eyepatched gambler named “Educated.” Familiar faces stud the cast; satirist Mort Sahl even turns up as a casino boss! This must have been some hip ticket back in ’63, pally.

But the revelation is Elizabeth Montgomery as Dare Guiness. (What a name!) She simply nails the psychology of those mercurial good-time-girls who are drawn to bad boys. And she was never lovelier.

Bill Crider brought this movie and another fine McPartland adaptation, the 1957 suburban drama No Down Payment, to my attention. He observed that Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a kind of unofficial Johnny Cool remake. I think he’s right.

Sammy Davis, Jr. also sings the movie’s theme, a Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen classic that tells the story of Johnny Cool. It’s called “The Story of Johnny Cool.” After hearing this and Sammy’s rendition of “My Mother The Car,” it’s safe to say that no one sold a bad song like the Candyman.

Life’s Too Short: Marlowe (1969)

I recorded this adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister the same day as Johnny Cool and gave up after forty minutes. James Garner makes a fine Philip Marlowe, but the movie seems tired from the start. It’s bad enough to have Marlowe use gay panic to trick a thug into jumping off a building. But when said thug is played by Bruce Lee ...

Miscellaneous: Link

Grady Hendrix offers an inconvenient truth: authentic grind house theaters and movies sucked.