Johnny O’Clock, a Gritty, Grimy, Grisly, Gat Filled Noir

At the Tone it Will Be Johnny O’Clock:

Johnny O’Clock is a story that at the beginning has only two characters who have any integrity or could be considered to be on the side of good. These two are both women, sisters in fact, Nancy Hobson, the older sister of the first murder victim of the story, Harriet Hobson; Nancy was played by Evelyn Keyes and Nina Foch appeared as Harriet. This is not to say that by the time the clock strikes twelve that the Hobson siblings are the only people of veracity left standing (or lying in Harriet’s case); it is a plot were any evidence in others of integrity is in question and the virtue is sorely needed in aid by the Hobson girls.

As with any Noir drama, there is much darkness both in the story-line and in the photography; plaudits to each member of the crew is warranted and gladly given. The members of O’Clock’s world are either misshapen, misbehavin’, misconstrued or are being mistreated. Everyone has an angle, each, with the exception of the aforesaid, Hobson sisters, have a loaded agenda, with heights above as their goal. The hero of Johnny O’Clock, a casino operator (a man of many names), has finally come to the point where his time is running out in his present circumstance; he (unlike the audience), just doesn’t yet know it. These various situations like a confluence of streams drive him to a point of desperation.

Lust, love and self-preservation, play a large part in the actions of Johnny O’Clock, who appears to be the typical anti-hero. Yet it is the same strengths that drove O’Clock to serve in WWII, which serve the greater good of Nancy Hobson, and the memory of her younger sister, Harriet Hobson (aptly played by Nina Foch). Harriet is at first thought to have committed suicide but eventually it is discovered that she was murdered; Harriet Hobson was a hatcheck girl (watched over by O’Clock, yet she is one of those classified as mistreated, this at the hands of a Police officer) at the casino in which O’Clock is partners with Guido (pronounced Gedo) Marchettis, portrayed by Thomas Gomez. Ellen Drew imitates the part of Nelle Marchettis, who is ever pursuing, O’Clock, and is openly flirtatious with Johnny, even with hubby Guido present. Inspector Koch (cigar chomping Lee J. Cobb), is tough, rough, by no means a dirty cop, but by no stretch of the imagination, a completely clean and honest police inspector. The final member of those characters central to the story of O’Clock, is Officer Chuck Blayden, boyfriend, intimidator and oft times abuser of Harriet Hobson; Blayden is the epitome of the dirty-cop, out for money and any power he garner.

As Time Goes By With Johnny O’Clock:

Johnny O’Clock follows the Film Noir formula close to the cuff until the end where it diverges into the unexpected territory of the patented Hollywood happy-ending. As Dick Powell and Lee J. Cobb exit the secret room where the final words of the script are played-out, the scene is reminiscent of Casablanca, where Humphry Bogart and Claude Rains began their “beautiful-friendship,” on the tarmac of the airport. The viewer of O’Clock can easily see the restrained respect each of these men have for one another, albeit, a begrudging admiration. These comparisons between Johnny O’Clock and Casablanca may seem forced but the similarities I draw attention to, are mostly directed toward the internal makeup of each of these men. While Rick Blaine and Johnny O’Clock share many of the same weaknesses, they also have common points of valor and honor. Captain Louis Renault and Inspector Koch are both men of opportunity, each Officer with nagging frailties and an obsession of self-importance. Rick and Johnny each run a casino, crossing the lines of criminality often, and each keeps the police close to his vest, or in his pocket, placating them with money, and feeding their egos with beautiful women. Both characters are also noble, which becomes detectible under pressure; this nobility is particularly visible when the needs of an “innocent” demand attention.

Much of the goings-on in Casablanca, happens also in, O’Clock, those peripheral characters that weave in and out of the plot-line at the casino; the leading ladies, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) in, Casablanca, and Nancy Hobson of, Johnny O’Clock, are each women who fall for a harsh man, who yearn and need “someone to watch over” them. Nancy and Ilsa want to do the right thing, but they are not sure how to go about it; the difference between the endings of Casablanca and Johnny O’Clock, is Ilsa flies off leaving Rick behind, while Nancy stays by her man. I do not intend to purport that Johnny O’Clock is a mirror image of Casablanca, nor do I proffer that O’Clock has the same movie-making qualities as Casablanca. My assertion is that the two films offer similar views of awkward friendships developed through adverse circumstances, love that flourishes inopportunely, with an assortment of backstabbing, betrayals and mayhem in general being the substance of their worlds.

The Hours of Johnny O’Clock:

First came the story, and then the production company came on-board; J. E. M. Productions, determined on the property of, Johnny O’Clock, written in 1945, by Milton Holmes. Holmes who brought to the table, O’Clock, was a follow-up to Mr. Lucky (the 1943 starrer for Cary Grant), also penned by Holmes, and Holmes was the third initial in J. E. M.; the other two initials of the production company were, Los Angeles attorney Jerry Geisler and Edward Nealis.[1] For Geisler and Nealis (who provided the financing for, O’Clock) this would be their only involvement in producing a picture, while Holmes would be involved in the production end three more times. Holmes was offered $20,000 for his screenplay from one of the major studios, but turned down the offering, deciding for 20% of the picture’s profits.[2]

Dick Powell signed to play the lead in, Johnny O’Clock, in May of 1946 at the salary of $150,000; and Evelyn Keyes was set as the love interest for, O’Clock in June of ’46.[3] First Choice for the role of, Nancy Hobson, the dame to Powell’s casino operator, O’Clock, was June Allyson, wife of Powell.[4] Allyson was under contract to MGM and they did not see fit to loan her out for the movie.

Evidently, Holmes’ screenplay version of his own story was not the “Deuce coupe” it was supposed to be and director Robert Rossen, who was to be at the helm was also set to write the picture; Rossen was already tapping away at the typewriter keys, adapting the original story by Holmes in April and May of ‘46.[5] Filming was scheduled to begin for, Johnny O’Clock, on July 1, 1946, but the production started one week late on Monday, July 8; principal filming was complete by late September of ’46.[6]

As the previews were being held in the middle of December of ‘46, the adulations began to pour in, this was especially true for Lee J. Cobb and his performance as Inspector Koch.[7] Some reviews were negative, mentioning slow pacing, and a lack of plot, and when criticism was positive, reviews were nearly off the chart in their account of what many now consider O’Clock to be, a Film Noir classic.

While the premiere date is correct, most of the country did not see, O’Clock, until February and later. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was one of the first cities to have a run of, Johnny O’Clock, which started on Wednesday, January 29, 1947.[8] The Advertising campaign in Harrisburg began early, was seen often and used large display ads. Milt Young[9] part of the Columbia Pictures publicity-department made a stop in Harrisburg on January 14, 1947, to promote, O’Clock, the city being one of the select few that hosted the movie prior to the film’s general release.[10]

Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 22, 1947

Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 22, 1947

Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 27, 1947

Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 27, 1947

Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 28, 1947

Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 28, 1947

HarrisburgTelegraph, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 29, 1947

HarrisburgTelegraph, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, January 29, 1947

 

The Minutes of Johnny O’Clock:

The mother-of-pearl, differing colored poker chips seen in the casino scenes in, Johnny O’Clock, were on loan from producer Edward J. Nealis, who said the set of 1,447 chips, had a face value of $663,945.00; each chip’s value being hand-carved.[11]

In the latter part of July, 1946, Evelyn Keyes eloped with writer director John Huston and were married in Las Vegas; the couple made a quick retreat (three hours) to the Columbia studios for Keyes to continue her shooting schedule. Keyes did not at first meet John, instead on a plane ride, she became acquainted with his father, Walter Huston; elder Huston nary changed the subject from his son for the entirety of the trip with the actress. Evelyn said, she practically fell in love with John Huston before she met him.[12]

Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, July 31, 1946

Mount Carmel Item, Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, July 31, 1946

 

One would think that with Dick Powell on set, that no one else would have the impudence to sing but one day of location filming was lost due to some ribbitting warbling, provided by some native bullfrogs. The gathering of amphibians made such a racket for the crew of film-makers, that soon the Lithobates catesbeianus found their way to a new venue, appearing with the film company’s caterer as froglegs.[13]

Real life G. I. Joe, Ira Grosel, who made an appearance in the, Thrill of a Romance, in 1945, was tagged for a small role for Johnny O’Clock. Of Course, Ira Grosel is not a well-remembered name in Hollywood lore, but his chosen silver-screen pseudonym is, that of: Jeff Chandler.[14]

May 12, 1947 saw the, Lux Radio Theater, present, Johnny O’Clock, with Dick Powell, Lee J. Cobb and Evelyn Keyes reprising their film roles, on the live broadcast.[15] As with most of the Lux productions, the acting is top-notch, populated by fine supporting voice talent, and the sound-effects are on target, adding depth and wonderful atmosphere to the show. Of course, the film’s script is truncated for radio, from 96 minutes down to 43; most of the editing was accomplished by utilizing numerous fade-outs throughout the program. This was common for radio adaptations of movies, since most of these radio presentations were confined to an hour or less, but the heart of O’Clock still remains for those who are willing to take their entertainment aurally.

For the discriminating woman the, Johnny o’Clock Beret was available at finer department stores, manufactured in eight colors, with price tag of $1.95.[16] As we see today much of the marketing for films relates to t-shirts and collectables of all kinds, we often forget that this is not a new phenomenon, it is just that most of the items available during the Golden Age of Hollywood were clothing, perfumes and jewelry. Articles offered that were related to film franchises of that era were directed toward adults, and most of that merchandise and its related advertising focused on women.

Delaware County Daily Times, Chester, Pennsylvania, Feb 13, 1947

Delaware County Daily Times, Chester, Pennsylvania, Feb 13, 1947

 

Johnny O’Clock did well at the box-office, pleasing patrons and should provide an hour-and-a-half of good entertainment for you and yours; O’Clock can be viewed online at archive.org for the fee of, well, it’s on the house, complimentary, if you will. Or, O’Clock can be had as part of a Film Noir compendium from TCM. The selling point for the TCM version is that the film has been restored and remastered. If looking for a stand-alone Johnny O’Clock DVD, you will have to be satisfied with a copy (most likely the same quality as seen on archive.org) from either Jubilee or DVDs Entertainment; I give no advice except, buyer beware, for I have no personal experience with these last two DVD outlets.

Motion Picture Daily March 12, 1947

Motion Picture Daily March 12, 1947

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Film Daily, November 26, 1945

[2] Film Bulletin, September 3, 1945

[3] Dixon evening Telegraph (Dixon, Illinois) December 26, 1946

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) May 3; June 20, 1946

[4] Independent Exhibitors Film Bulletin, May 13, 1946

[5] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) May 3; June 20, 1946

[6] Independent Exhibitors Film Bulletin, June 24; July 8; September 30, 1946

Evening Independent (Massillon, Ohio) September 25, 1946

[7] News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) December 26, 1946

[8] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) January 28, 1947

[9] Milt Young had previously been a member of the Warner Brothers publicity staff; with Columbia, he out of Philadelphia, PA

[10] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) January 15; 28, 1947

[11] Neosho Daily News (Neosho, Missouri) December 23, 1946

[12] Carroll Daily Times Herald (Carroll, Iowa) July 29, 1946

Mount Carmel Item (Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania) July 31, 1946

Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) August 13, 1946

[13] News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) September 3, 1946

[14] Ruthven Free Press (Ruthven, Iowa) September 4, 1946

[15] Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) May 10, 1947

[16] Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) February 13, 1947

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