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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Johnny Allegro
Johnny Allegro
Sony Screen Classics by Request // Unrated // March 4, 2011 // Region 0
List Price: $20.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted July 21, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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Johnny Allegro (1949), a later-career George Raft movie, is usually described as a kind of gangster variation of The Most Dangerous Game, the short story and 1932 movie about an insane big game hunter who, on a remote island, hunts the most dangerous and challenging game of all: human beings. While definitely an influence, those story elements don't really come into play until the last six or seven minutes of Johnny Allegro's 80-minute running time, though it's clearly leading up to that long before it finally happens.

The rest of the picture is routine but breezily enjoyable, thanks to some good chemistry between Raft and co-star Nina Foch - Columbia pretty clearly emulating the Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall synergy. At this point in her career Foch even resembles Bacall; decked out with similar costumes and makeup, and supplemented with a lot of huskily-whispered, To Have and Have Not-esque dialogue, the results are derivative but pleasing.

A "Sony Screen Classics by Request" title on DVD-R format, Johnny Allego gets a superb black and white, full-frame transfer that really shines. How can DVD be dead when transfers look this good even on big-screen TVs? No extras, even though a trailer is available on TCM's website.

Raft is the ex-gangster of the title, working as a nattily dressed florist at a big Los Angeles hotel. A beautiful guest, Glenda Chapman (Nina Foch), trying to elude a police detective (Harry Antrim, R.H. Macy in Miracle on 34th Street), plants a big kiss on stranger Johnny, begging him, "Please pretend you know me!" Johnny, instantly attracted to the mysterious woman, goes along with the gag.

At closing time, Johnny is approached by a wily Treasury Department agent, Schultzy (Will Geer), to gather information about Glenda. Schultzy is aware that Johnny Allegro is really Johnny Rock, former gangster probably framed but sent up to Sing Sing nonetheless, who escaped but later saved a lot of lives working for the O.S.S. Schultzy gives Johnny the chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the law if he'll spy on Glenda.

Just in time. Glenda is about to take a powder when Johnny offers to help get her out of the hotel unnoticed. However, in the basement the detective confronts them and Johnny shoots him dead - or so Glenda thinks. Now she'll just have to take Johnny along. They fly to Florida and from there take a boat to a remote (and very inauthentic for the region) island. It's the property of one Morgan Vallin (George Macready), a cultured villain who pooh-poohs Johnny's crude gangster methods, particular Johnny's use of a smelly pistol. (He actually complains about its odor.) Vallin, a big game hunter, prefers the bow and arrow. Vallin takes Johnny's gun.

The next day, Johnny catches Vallin talking to a nefarious pair of foreign agents with the over-emphatic, Commie-coded names of Vetch (Ivan Triesault) and Grote (Walter Rode). They're planning on flooding the American economy with $500 million in counterfeit currency, a souvenir from the Japanese that went unused during World War II.

George Raft's career as a leading man peaked at Warner Bros. in the late 1930s and early '40s. When Humphrey Bogart, who had been playing supporting parts in Raft's movies as late as 1940, began getting better leading roles than Raft, the former dancer and iconic movie gangster demanded a release from his contract.* (A famous story has studio head Jack L. Warner offering Raft a $10,000 settlement but the uneducated Raft, misunderstanding, wrote Warner a check for that amount instead. Warner didn't refuse it.) Raft spent the next several years free-lancing from one studio to another - Fox, RKO, Universal, etc. - finding ending up here. By the early 1950s he was making potboilers for Lippert and after that reduced to being a greeter at the Havana casino he partly owned with Meyer Lansky. In 1959 Raft spoofed his screen image in Billy Wilder's great comedy Some Like It Hot, and that made so strong an impression that he spoofed it again and again for the rest of his career, in movies like Oceans Eleven (1960), Casino Royale (1967), Sextette (1978)**, and The Man with Bogart's Face (1980).

Though it's hardly a stretch, Raft seems to be enjoying playing Johnny Allegro, rising above the material in his scenes with Foch and Geer especially. With Foch the attempt to generate the same kind of sparks as Bogie and Bacall is pretty obvious, but the actors pull it off reasonably well. Will Geer, later famous as the grandfather on The Waltons, was before his blacklisting a uniquely imposing actor. His craggy features, reedy voice, and actorly gestures, like chewing gum while projecting a kind of passive menace (he does this in several films), made him unusual and distinctive among early postwar character actors.

Johnny Allegro is a pretty handsome production by Columbia Pictures standards of the period; it doesn't appear cheap. It may also have been inspired by the success of Johnny O'Clock (1947), which starred another ex-Warners star, Dick Powell, and featured Foch. (And as Sergei Hasenecz points out, Raft himself starred in Johnny Angel shortly before this.) Directed by former cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff (I Married a Witch, Notorious), the film is slick and the location work is excellent.

Video & Audio

Visually, Johnny Allegro is fantastic. The full-frame, black and white transfer is crystal sharp with just about zero imperfections. It has the appearance of having come straight from the lab. The region-free disc's English-only audio is likewise above average. There are the usual chapter stops every ten minutes and, as previously mentioned, no Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

Recommended for George Raft admirers and fans of this type of picture. Derivative but quite enjoyable and slickly made.

* Sergei Hasenecz offers a different scenario: "JL himself complained that Raft was getting to be more trouble than he was worth by refusing to take roles he was assigned (High Sierra and Maltese Falcon would be two of those) and of Raft's insistence that he only play good guys, no more heels or gangsters."

** If memory serves, in that film it's Raft (playing himself) who asks the mummified Mae West if she's still working, to which she replies, "I'm the girl that works at Paramount all day, and Fox all night."

Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary for AnimEigo's Tora-san, a DVD boxed set, is on sale now.

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