Sunday, July 12, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Johnny Angel (1945) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

George Raft stars in the title role in JOHNNY ANGEL (1945), a new release in the Warner Archive's Film Noir Collection.

JOHNNY ANGEL is a pretty good movie thanks to terrific atmosphere and charismatic performances by Claire Trevor and Hoagy Carmichael. It might have been a great movie if more dynamic actors had been cast in the parts played by Raft and Signe Hasso; their generally wooden acting leads to the film's energy dissipating when their characters are onscreen any length of time, although in fairness Raft has a couple of nice moments here and there.

Johnny (Raft) is a cargo ship captain who finds another ship drifting in the fog. The ship is completely empty, but there are signs of foul play. In an affecting moment, we realize when Johnny finds a photograph that the captain of the missing crew was Johnny's father (J. Farrell MacDonald).

The ship is towed back to New Orleans, where Johnny sets out to discover what happened to the crew. He prowls various clubs looking for a mysterious woman (Hasso) who was spotted slipping away from the ostensibly empty ship once it docked.

Meanwhile Johnny periodically runs into his old flame, Lila (Trevor), who married "Gusty" (Marvin Miller), the weasely but wealthy owner of the shipping line which employs Johnny. The ineffectual Gusty has an interesting relationship with his former nursemaid (Margaret Wycherly of WHITE HEAT), who basically runs the company; Lila loves Gusty's money but is not exactly happily married.

The cast is rounded out by Carmichael as "Celestial," a taxicab driver who always seems to be in the right place at the right moment. Indeed, his character seems more than a bit like an "angel," which is interesting to contemplate given his character's name and Johnny's own last name.

The movie alternates some wonderful atmospheric suspense, filmed in black and white by Harry J. Wild -- the opening is excellent -- with some fairly slow-moving sequences which at times make the movie seem longer than its 79 minutes. Yet then Trevor comes back on screen, her eyes flashing dangerously, and the viewer is sucked right back in. What's she going to do with that letter opener, anyway?!

The screenplay for JOHNNY ANGEL was by Steve Fisher, who wrote many terrific noir titles; there's more on his credits in my recent review of LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN (1955). The movie was directed by Edwin L. Marin.

The solid musical score was by Leigh Harline, who composed the scores for Disney's SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937) and PINOCCHIO (1940).

Save for a few random scratches here and there, the Warner Archive DVD is a very good print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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