Thursday, December 25, 2014
"Christmas in July", "Johnny O'Clock": Dick Powell & Ellen Drew
Ellen Drew read through the script to Johnny O'Clock (1947), a major project at Columbia, and saw possibilities. The film would be screenwriter Robert Rossen's first directorial assignment. Rossen's script told the story of Johnny O'Clock (Dick Powell), partner of gangster Guido Marchettis (Thomas Gomez) in the operation of a gambling casino. Ellen zeroed in on the character of Nelle and went directly to Robert Rossen, asking him to test her for the role. Rossen acquiesced, but was skeptical; he thought Drew a little too genteel to portray the femme fatale.
All doubts were erased by the test and Ellen went on to deliver an electrifying performance ("a sleek and slinky vixen", The New York Times). Clad in sexy Jean Louis creations, with her hair cascading well past her shoulders, she talked tough as she toyed with the men in her life, managing to be seductive even when plastered. Along the way Johnny has made it clear to Nelle that he is on to her and not interested in her advances.
The murdered girl's sister (Evelyn Keyes) has become his romantic focus. The melodrama draws to a close with O'Clock and Marchettis involved in a deadly shoot-out, with Nelle having played one man off the other. Johnny O'Clock remains a noteworthy example of film noir. Despite a somewhat untidy storyline, its dialogue, direction and performances are first-rate. It's quite remarkable watching Drew and Dick Powell together in their sexually-charged, hard-edged scenes, remembering that seven years before they were the wide-eyed kids of Christmas in July! Ellen's work in Johnny O'Clock greatly impressed the Columbia front office.
"Harriet Hobson (Nina Foch), a hat-check girl at an illegal gambling casino, apparently commits suicide using gas. Her sister Nancy (Evelyn Keyes) shows up and becomes attracted to Johnny O’Clock (Dick Powell), a junior partner in the gambling den. Harriet was dating Chuck Blayden (Jim Bannon), a crooked cop who is trying to persuade Johnny’s longtime partner, Guido Marchettis (Thomas Gomez), to let him take Johnny’s place.
Though Johnny tries to resist, little by little, he falls for Nancy. Meanwhile, Marchettis’s wife Nelle (Ellen Drew) is still in love with her former boyfriend, Johnny. When Marchettis finds out, he tries to have his rival killed, but Johnny survives. Johnny decides to leave town with Nancy, but not before cashing in his share of the casino. When Marchettis objects, they shoot it out; Marchettis is killed and Johnny wounded. Afterward, Nelle offers to testify it was self-defense, but only if he will come back to her. He refuses, so she lies to Koch, telling him it was murder. Johnny’s first instinct is to run away, but Nancy and Koch convince him to give himself up.
Johnny O'Clock (Dick Powell) and his partner Pete Marchettis (Thomas Gomez) operate a gambling casino that has seen better days. Chuck Blayden (Jim Bannon), a cop on the take, wants in on the casino, and he makes friends with Pete while trying to convince him that Johnny, the smarter of the two, should go. When Chuck's girlfriend Harriet (Nina Foch) is found dead, a supposed suicide, his sister Nancy (Evelyn Keyes) smells a rat, especially after Chuck skips town. Screenwriter Robert Rossen made his directorial debut with this film, 14 years later, he would return to this film's tough, gritty style for his best picture, The Hustler. Source: movies.nytimes.com