25 September 2001 | bmacv
Despite best efforts, Powell, Keyes & Cobb can't quite salvage warmed-over noir
As much as more touted actors such as Bogart and Mitchum, Dick Powell helped form the noir cycle, with his assumption -- the first on film -- of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet. He went on to star in such dark and definitive works as The Pitfall and Conflict (not to mention such lesser offerings as Cry Danger and To The Ends Of The Earth). Here, as title character and mid-level gambler/gangster Johnny O'Clock, he sports the thick shell and sub-zero emotional temperature of the noir protagonist, a type he helped to patent. But given a muddled script with noirish shots, situations and symbols thrown in willy-nilly, he fails to convince. Evelyn Keyes, as the sister of a murdered hat-check girl, has (as always) her moments, as does Ellen Drew, as the soused trophy-wife of big mobster Thomas Gomez. Lee J. Cobb puffs his cigar endlesslly, trying to enforce the law. Johnny O'Clock is not quite a bad movie but it's less memorable than many worse-made movies in the cycle. There's just nothing particularly distinctive about it. You feel you've watched it before, at least in bits and pieces, even though chances are (it remains relatively obscure) you haven't.