Johnny Allegro (1949)
Directed by Ted Tetzlaff
Produced by Irving Starr
Written by Guy Endore, Karen DeWolf
Based on a story by James Edward Grant
Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc
Edited by Jerome Thoms
(1:21) Noir Archive Vol. 1 1944-1954 Blu-ray
Johnny Allegro (1949) contains elements of gangster movies, film noir, and a touch of the 1932 thriller The Most Dangerous Game, all while attempting to pass off George Raft and Nina Foch as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. You might think such a concoction would result in an absolute mess, but it doesn’t, yet neither does it result in a home run. But is it worth your time?
Raft stars as Johnny Allegro, a successful florist at a large Los Angeles hotel. (Casting Raft as a florist is the first of many situations that are hard to swallow, but believe me, it goes down much easier than some of the other situations we’re asked to believe.)
When a beautiful woman (Foch) walks into Johnny’s shop and wraps her arms around him, whispering “Please pretend you know me,” Johnny decides to forget all about the orchids for awhile. He learns that this woman named Glenda Chapman is trying to elude a police detective (Harry Antrim) who’s been following her. Johnny agrees to hide Glenda until closing time, when a Treasury Department agent named Schultzy (Will Geer, almost unrecognizable to those who know him only from The Waltons TV series) asks for a word with Johnny.
Schultzy wants Johnny to gather information on Glenda, who may have a connection to foreign agents. Why should I? asks Johnny. Because Schultzy knows that Johnny Allegro is really Johnny Rock, a former gangster who escaped from Sing Sing. If Johnny agrees to help Schultzy, the agent will grant him immunity.
I won’t reveal how it happens, but Johnny manages to get Glenda out of the hotel and away from the police detective. To no one’s surprise, however, complications ensue, and Glenda gains control, forcing Johnny to accompany her to a remote island near Florida. Here Johnny meets Morgan Vallin (George Macready), who reluctantly welcomes Johnny for safely delivering Glenda, Vallin’s literal partner in crime. The crime in question? To flood the American economy with $500 million in counterfeit currency, ruining the country financially, allowing foreign agents can take control.
A conflict of wills ensues immediately as Vallin - an archer - sneers at Johnny’s primitive gangster methods, particularly the use of such a crude weapon as a pistol. Besides, Vallin is cultured, sophisticated, and if given the chance, probably capable of talking Johnny (and us) to death. If you’ve been around the cinematic block at all, you know that Johnny and Vallin will eventually have a showdown.
Although its components are quite familiar to seasoned movie lovers, Johnny Allegro frequently looks good, and sometimes very good, thanks mostly to some nice high-contrast cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc, who enjoyed a long career working in many genres, shooting films as diverse as It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Airplane! (1980). Of course, Ted Tetzlaff spent many years as a cinematographer before transitioning to directing, so the look of Johnny Allegro is almost guaranteed to be impressive.
What’s not so impressive is the script, which asks the viewer to go along with many unbelievable plot points such as Johnny’s real motivation, the nature of Vallin’s plan, and particularly Vallin’s failure to keep tabs on what Johnny is really up to while he’s on Vallin’s island. The script was co-written by Karen DeWolf (best known for her work on Columbia’s Blondie films) and Guy Endore, who earned a screenwriting Oscar nomination for The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). Clearly this was not the best work of either writer and was probably a rush job, evidenced by Johnny Allegro’s wooden dialogue and Vallin’s rants, which never rise above those you’d typically hear from any one-dimensional villain. The action scenes are clumsy and even the ending (which held much promise) fizzles out, resulting in a big disappointment.
Yet the visuals are often impressive, especially for a Columbia B picture. George Raft may not be your cup of tea, but he gets the job done, and Nina Foch looks great with him. Plus any film with George Macready is worth a look. The film could’ve been much better, but it also could’ve been worse. But I suppose a mild recommendation is better than none at all.
Johnny Allegro is part of the Noir Archive Vol. 1 1944-1954 set from Mill Creek, so if you own it, you’re probably going to check out the film anyway. Fans of Raft, Foch, and/or Macready will definitely want to check it out. Although Mill Creek offers no extras, the disc’s sound and image are quite good.
Photos: Filmaffinity, DVD Beaver, Mill Creek