25 November 2009 | st-shot
Eager's good look goes beyond its stars.
Robert Taylor doesn't ace every scene but he gives a more than credible performance as Johnny Eager, an inventive pragmatic and violent when called for gangster trying to open a legit dog track from behind the scenes. In order to avoid being a parole violator Eager pretends to drive a cab while he masterminds the track deal paying off cops and officials to smooth things. Some officials can't be bought however and a judge (Edward Arnold) with a deep seeded resentment of Eager whom he refers to as "Thief" and humiliates blocks his license. The coldly practical Eager circumvents the problem by compromising the judge's daughter (Lana Turner) but loses his balance on the tightrope he's walking when he falls hard for her dame.
Eager has a crisper look than most noirs and director Mervyn LeRoy deftly handles the storyline and avoids run of the mill by injecting minor but telling incidentals that indicate Johnny's slow transformation. Suspense scenes are well edited and mise en scene is busy and filled with pertinent detail.
While Bogart might seem an apt choice to play Eager I doubt he could have played it with the same nervous authoritative energy or insecurity Taylor does here. Most of all he lacks Taylor's good looks which are crucial to romancing Lana Turner. The glamorous Ms. Turner is at first a little hard to believe as a student studying social work but she does acquit herself well in some powerfully dramatic scenes with Taylor. Paul Stewart, Glenda Farrell and Edward Arnold chip in fine supporting performances while Van Heflin delivers a magnificent one. Heflin as Eager's alcoholic sidekick and pickled conscience is not only effectively moving but also lends a droll sense of wit to the film with his sardonic observations.