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October 2014

Johnny Cool DVD

cast: Henry Silva, Elizabeth Montgomery, Telly Savalas, Sammy Davis Jr, and Elijah Cook

director: William Asher

103 minutes (NR) 1963
MGM DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by J.C. Hartley

Johnny Cool

I first saw this movie on late-night TV, probably sometime in the mid-1970s. Bizarrely, I remember it being in colour, despite not owning a colour set until 1995! I think it must be something to do with the sun-washed Hollywood locations. It stuck in my mind then and if it doesn't quite live up to that memory it still holds a certain amount of interest.

In wartime Sicily, a young boy rescues his mother from an assault by a German soldier by blowing him up with his own grenade. The boy's victory is short-lived, however, as German troops shoot his mother before the boy is himself rescued by partisans. Fast-forward, and the child is now Salvatore Giordano (Henry Silva), a Sicilian Robin Hood, guest of honour at a local wedding, interviewed by the American media, before the Carabinieri gatecrash in a couple of helicopters. Wounded and captured by the military police, Giordano's body is replaced by a disfigured corpse while he is spirited away to Rome.

In Rome, Giordano is given an offer he can't refuse by exiled gangster Johnny Colini, alias 'Johnny Cool' (Marc Lawrence). Colini will groom Giordano in American cool, give him the inside straight on the Mob's activities in the USA, and make him his heir. In return, Colini wants Giordano to travel to the 'States and rub out his former associates who betrayed him.

Now in America, Giordano, calling himself Johnny Colini, introduces himself to the mob with some rough stuff in a drinking and dining club, used as a front by the gangland hierarchy. The new Johnny Cool also catches the attention of bored divorcee socialite Darien 'Dare' Guiness (Elizabeth Montgomery). Johnny gives the mob his ultimatum: total control of activities in the USA, otherwise his army will proceed with a series of assassinations. Johnny makes some time with Dare but is then invited to meet some of the mob while they check him out. Unfortunately for Dare, a couple of hoods are despatched to her apartment masquerading as cops to see what she knows about Johnny. Realising she knows nothing, the two toughs call in a report and are advised to use some 'muscle', and "leave her something to remember them by""; while the scene suggests she receives a beating the inference is obviously that she is raped.

Meanwhile, Johnny has got the drop on the mob during a crap game, holding a gun on 'Educated' (a cameo from Sammy Davis Jr, who also sings the theme and an incidental number), while he rolls the dice to clean them out. Leaving the club, Johnny overhears the two thugs who have attacked Dare gloating about their night. After discovering Dare in tears back at her apartment, Johnny returns to the club and stabs the hoods, mutilating the bodies in the Sicilian manner to indicate a revenge killing.

Johnny meets with the new mob boss Vince Santangelo (Telly Savalas) to lay down his ultimatum, total control of mob operations in the USA. Rebuffed, Johnny sets off across the 'States, carrying out a wave of killings. Murdering Oscar Hinds (John McGiver) and Ben Morrow (Mort Sahl) in their casino, Johnny is taken aback when Morrow reveals that Colini promised him a share in his empire and that Colini is bound to betray Johnny. Morrow says that Johnny is merely Colini's "delivery boy of death." Johnny is ready to abandon the mission but an aroused Dare urges him to carry on and be a man, and the pair set off together to bring the plot to fruition.

Johnny kills Lennart Crandall (Brad Dexter) with explosives, then he and Dare split up while Johnny goes to execute Santangelo. Dare panics when her rented car is spotted by police, and accepts an invitation from some friends to spend the weekend partying on their yacht. Discovering that Crandall's children narrowly avoided being killed in the explosion that killed their father, Dare gives the mob details of her rendezvous with Johnny before giving herself up to the FBI, telling them that she has killed Johnny. Johnny has shot Santangelo and keeps the appointment with Dare only to find the mob waiting for him. He is captured, strait-jacketed, and informed of the torture that awaits him to extract the details of mob activities that he was given by Colini.

A curiosity, the obvious parallel that Johnny Cool evokes is with John Boorman and Lee Marvin's Point Blank of four years later. But, while Point Blank is cool, immersive, metaphoric, and mythic, with a killer colour palate, and clearly late 1960s, Johnny Cool is black and white, with one foot in the 1950s, hamstrung by the Hays code and trying to make amorality hip while saying that crime doesn't pay. Having said all that, while Johnny Cool isn't Kiss Me Deadly, it is slightly shocking with its automaton hero and Stockholm syndrome heroine embarking on a killing spree.

Some stuff, like the FBI briefing on mob activities seems added on, and the ending, with Johnny's capture and imminent torture - while emphasising that he is to be paid back for his swathe of slaughter - rather puts the gang-bosses in the role of society's judiciary, emphasised by their presentation of corporate respectability! Henry Silva comes on like Jack Palance junior; the very next year to this release, Elizabeth Montgomery would be Samantha in ABC's Bewitched. Director William Asher was better known for the 'beach party' genre of teenage movies, often featuring Frankie Avalon. In fact, Johnny Cool appeared between Beach Party (1963), and Muscle Beach Party (1964).



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