Johnny Apollo (1940)
Under Henry Hathaway’s direction screen idol, Tyrone Power, turns from cute college boy to a life of crime with gangster pal Lloyd Nolan calling the shots. Can the love of a fallen woman looking to reform both herself and Ty rescue him from a life time sentence in the big house? That woman is none other than Dorothy Lamour looking absolutely radiant in “glorious black and white.”
Ty is living a life of ease thanks to his father, Edward Arnold. That’s all to come crashing down when the wealthy patriarch is imprisoned for embezzlement. A conviction that even his high priced lawyer friend Lionel Atwill can’t get him off of. Ty is about to realize he’ll need to hit the pavement and get an everyday job to support himself. It won’t come easy when he carries the Jr. tag of a notorious criminal. He and Arnold will part on nasty terms initially before Ty approaches Atwill to mend the fences and urge Atwill to get his father out of prison. Atwill brushes off the youngster suggesting they’d have to pay off officials to get him out. Something he isn’t prepared to do. From here Ty is off to meet the lawyer for gangster Nolan who has a knack for keeping the criminal element out of prison.
It’s at this point that Ty who is still “wet behind the ears” will cross paths with Lamour and Nolan. Nolan takes a liking to the lad and puts him on the payroll while Lamour doesn’t want to see the “swell kid” get hurt. The fact that Nolan served time with Arnold adds a bit of flavor to the movie. Nolan has no idea as to the true identity of Ty who now goes by the moniker Johnny Apollo. Gangsters love to hang out in nightclubs and have the nightly stage attraction on their arm and that’s just what Nolan has in Lamour. Dorothy gets to do a couple of numbers during the movie befitting a star on the rise as she was at this time. Songs include Dancing for Nickels and Dimes and This is the Beginning of the End.” Along with Ty, Nolan also has a couple of heavies backing his play that are sure to cause you to say, “I know that face.” And why not considering his thugs are played by Anthony Caruso and Marc Lawrence.
When Arnold who is still on the inside learns of Ty’s new identity and just who he’s working for, he’ll reject his son. This will only embitter Ty more sealing his fate as a criminal who will find himself at odds with law enforcement. This despite the fact that he and Lamour are now an item behind Nolan’s back. Lamour wants to get out of the racket and for Ty to come with her. It’s Nolan’s lawyer that will take pity on Lamour and attempt to play Cupid by playing Judas to Nolan’s gangster handing over the necessary evidence to put him away for good by making a deal with the D.A.
Nolan won’t take kindly to this turn of events setting the premise for the final third of the plot.
Considering this is a gangster film, there’s very little of the genre on display and that may have something to do with this being a 20th Century Fox production as opposed to a Warner Brothers feature where one might expect to see Cagney and Bogie as opposed to Ty and Nolan. We know Nolan is a gangster because the script tells us so and he’s got the muscle to back him up and the dame on the arm to prove it. We just don’t play witness to the protection racket or heist jobs that we would across town at Jack Warner’s studio.
Watch closely and you’ll see an assortment of faces alongside Caruso and Lawrence in lesser roles. Included are Charles Lane, Milburn Stone and Louis Jean Heydt. I’m quite sure you’ll spot others that are easily identifiable from your own viewing habits. Famous today for his Son of Frankenstein role as Inspector Krogh, Lionel Atwill continued to move freely between studios and genres up to this point in his career.
Hathaway would direct a number of Tyrone features including another 1940 release, Brigham Young. My personal favorite film of the two working together would be the gripping western, Rawhide released in 1951. Another name that western film buffs might recognize here in the opening credits is the associate producer’s, Harry Joe Brown. As producer, Brown would go on to a long and successful union with Randolph Scott as the two embarked on a succession of western films up until Scott’s retirement.
If Lamour hadn’t already found everlasting fame on camera, she was about to by teaming up with Bob and Bing for a succession of road trips to far off exotic locations and also in one on one duets with either of the famed duo.
Hathaway’s Johnny Apollo has been sitting on my shelf far too long as part of the excellent Tyrone Power collection released on DVD through Fox if you’re hoping to secure a copy.