I found this movie to be weirdly appealing. There are all sorts of reasons why I shouldn’t like it.

“Uh oh.” (Image via Classic Movie Ramblings)

A merchant ship captain who bears the titular name (played with all the dramatic intensity of a plank of wood by George Raft) stumbles upon his father’s ship. He finds it floating, wrecked, and abandoned. His dad’s not around, either. I guess he’s presumed dead, because I don’t recall Johnny identifying a body. Or maybe he did and I was just lulled into a state of inattention by the lengthy search for Dad.

We do flash back (eventually) to the point where his father was killed, but that happens later in the film.

So this guy Johnny works for this fellow he’s known all his life it seems. (At least, based on what we learn. Later.) And his boss has this secretary/receptionist/mother figure who hovers over Johnny’s boss with the care of a billionaire’s hand maiden.

Well, Johnny wants to find the mug who whacked Dad. So he asks around and with the aid of various friends and acquaintances, along with some handy clues, like notes and matchbooks left in convenient places, he embarks on a sort of scavenger hunt for more intel on the situation. And for transportation, it seems he has his own personal cabbie in the form of Hoagy Carmichael (as Celestial O’Brien). Who names a boy Celestial? :)

“What were my parents thinking?”
(Image via Mike’s Take on the Movies)

Meanwhile, there’s a lady name of Paulette Girard (played by Signe Hasso), who’s being hunted down and used for target practice by some Very Bad People. Turns out she was an unlisted passenger on good old Dad’s ship. Also, turns out she knows just a bit more than she should about what happened on the boat and why.

“I’m crazy about you, baby,” he said, his expression blank.
(Image via The Movie Scene)

Okay, that’s all well and good. And I will say there are some great fight scenes in this thing. Raft and whoever takes a crack at him can really tear up a room. As objects are thrown — including something resembling a spear! — furniture is smashed or upturned, and bodies are heaved into the air, I found myself laughing. It was almost like watching The Three Stooges.

But, between bouts, the movie can be slo-o-o-o-w going. I couldn’t help but notice that much of the first act is spent focused on Johnny, walking around. He walks around the abandoned ship. He walks around various places in New Orleans, when he’s not in the cab with Celestial his Personal Cabbie, who whistles and plays the piano, now and then. And the cinematography is awesome.

Okay, is this a kind of precursor to the “slow burn” dramas we stream today? I say “kind of” only because I wonder if today’s up-and-coming producers have even seen this movie.

It would be interesting if they had. :)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the always welcome presence of Claire Trevor in the role of Johnny’s boss’s wife. She (unsurprisingly) has her own history with Johnny that isn’t explored so much as vaguely mentioned and she doesn’t care for her husband’s receptionist/secretary/mother substitute. Just as unsurprisingly, the feeling is mutual.

“Invite your secretary-Mom and we’ll have enough players for a game of bridge.”
(Image via Movie Paradise)

By the way, when Paulette is first shot at, Johnny is witness to the event. This leads up to the Most Film Noir Meet Cute I can ever recall seeing. As well as a Cinderella moment! Seriously!

As for George Raft as a romantic lead … uh … I wouldn’t have expected it. :)

This movie makes a decent casual view. Very, very casual. But I can’t outright hate it, either.

I wonder what the book is like.

This trailer makes the film look much better than it is.

***

Directed by Edwin L. Marin
Produced by Jack J. Gross (executive) and William L. Pereira
Screenplay by Steve Fisher and Frank Gruber (based on the novel Mr. Angel Comes Aboard by Charles Gordon Booth)

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Debbi Mack

Debbi Mack

New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website: www.debbimack.com.