If you’re expecting a tongue-in-cheek caper movie with a modern jazz score from the Rat Pack Extended Universe… Johnny Cool will take you places you didn’t mean to be. Sure Sammy’s in it as is Henry Silva and Joey Bishop whilst Peter Lawford produced but this Johnny turns out more chilled than cool… and the film leaves you far more anxious than you expected.
Directed by William Asher and based on John McPartland’s novel The Kingdom of Johnny Cool the film transcends its – now un-cool – title to deliver a gripping late noire that features many shades of grey and an ending that you won’t see coming.
We begin in 1943 Sicily as Nazi soldiers brutalise a young woman and her son. Rescue comes too late and the boy picks up a gun that must now become his “family”.
|Henry Silva looking cool|
The wedding is raided by soldiers – no other way of trapping this man – and he is pursued over the hills via helicopter until finally being downed by a shot from on high. But, Mother of Mercy, this is not the end as a couple of men substitute another man who proceeds to suffer the summary fate planned for him.
Salvatore is dead but long live Johnny Cool. Awakening in Rome in the plush apartments of Johnny Colini (Marc Lawrence) – a Mafioso in exile – he is persuaded to become Johnny’s avenging angel in the United States. Once this surrogate Johnny “Cool” has taken care of business, he will inherit Colini’s empire all to the benefit of his people and himself…
|Johnny plays the game|
Meanwhile Johnny’s eyes alight on one of the most beautiful pair of eyes in all of the West Coast: Elizabeth Montgomery is Darien "Dare" Guinness and it’s a pleasure to see her act in something other than one of the most successful sitcoms of all time.
|Guinness is good for you|
Telly Savalas is introduced as Vincenzo 'Vince' Santangelo, the leader of the local mob and a man who sits secure in the apparent superiority of his numbers. But Johnny goes to work and gradually chips away at his sponsor’s enemies, gradually earning their respect and fear as he goes.
|Elizabeth and Henry|
The two fall into a relationship but it can only be a matter of time before his past, present and future catch up with both of them.
|Johnny leaves the scene|
Not all of them make the end of the film…
Dusty Verdict: Johnny Cool is not quite as cool as it once was but it’s still s surprisingly amoral experience now with Johnny’s code of honour barely separating him from the men he is out to destroy. All of this was born in the second world war when his mother was killed… was that the Rat Pack’s rationalisation of their friends’ occupation?
Johnny Cool is available on DVD from Amazon: well worth watching how even in 1963 the gangster wasn’t always viewed as a pure Robin Hood… even in The Pack’s sanitised view.
Cool score from Billy May by the way.