In the early 1940s Hollywood must have been running out of titles about shady gangster types. Among other titles there were "Johnny Allegro," "Johnny Eager," "Johnny O'Clock" and some others I forget. By the 1950s they had pretty much run out of "Johnny"s, no one willing to essay a project called "Johnny Aardvark," and they'd switched to other characters with everyday first names but unique last names. In "Legend of the Lost," John Wayne was Joe January.
"Johnny Apollo" is apt enough as far as that goes. In 1940, Tyrone Power was one of Twentieth-Century Fox's most handsome leading men. He melts the tarty heart of Dorothy Lamour minutes after their first meeting. She tells him to make a wish, then adds after a pause, "I'll bet that wish was about a woman." (I waited for him to say, "No, a man.") It's often described as a gangster movie but the core theme is the relationship between father (Arnold) and son (Power). Arnold is a wealthy man who is convicted of some kind of shenanigans in the stock market and spends time in jail, where he redeems himself by becoming a model prisoner and enthusiastic welder in the boiler shop.
Disillusioned by the discovery of his father's illegal activities and denied any responsible job because of the stain on the family name, Power drops the "Robert Cain, Jr." moniker and becomes "Johnny Apollo." He rejects his sadder but wiser father, saying, "I know thee not, old man." Well, not that, exactly.
He also barges ahead recklessly in the pelf department by becoming mixed up with the notorious racketeer Mickey Dwyer (Nolan). Power becomes one of the brains in Nolan's gang but not a soldier. He's never involved in violence. In fact, there's very little violence in the movie. An ice-pick murder takes place in a steam room. (Kids: An ice pick is this long thin round instrument with a sharp point, used for chipping ice from big blocks in order to make alcoholic drinks called "highballs.") Almost all the action takes place during a jail break at the end, not particularly exciting or well staged, though directed efficiently by Henry Hathaway.
I found the movie a little flat, although as usual I hoped for a happy ending, which arrived apace. I don't know exactly what it's missing. If there had been more physical movement it might have added some momentum and the movie would have been a fast-paced and unpretentious gangster flick. If the writers had decided to go in a different direction, it might have been an interesting drama about family relations and the heritability of criminal tendencies. You know, nature versus nurture? Instead it seems like a Lamarckian mistake, like Soviet agriculture. It's a little dull, though it's always good to see Edward Arnold playing something other than a money-mad and power-driven blowhard. You ought to see him register "disappointment" when Power tells him off.
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