By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Top of crime world.
Johnny Cool (Henry Silva) is really Giordano a man who grew to mythical proportions as an outlaw in a small Italian village after killing off some soldiers who tried to rape his mother. His exploits come to the attention of Colini (Marc Lawrence) who has been exiled to Sicily because of his gangster past. He stages a fake assassination of Giordano in order to kidnap him and train him to go back to the United States and kill off the men that ordered his downfall. Johnny does this, but then becomes even more powerful than Colini was and soon he is both feared and hunted by the crime world.
The film, which was directed by William Asher, is nicely paced. I liked the fast, gripping action, the pounding music, and raw approach. The black and white photography nicely accentuates the gritty subject matter. Although it may seem a bit tame by today’s standards I still found most of it to be intense and uncompromising especially the ending.
Lots and lots of famous faces pop up everywhere, which is fun for a bit, but then takes you out of the story as it seems to become more like ‘spot the star’. Some of the cameos are small and pointless while others are more interesting. Sammy Davis Jr. has a tense scene playing a man with an eye patch who must role a specific number with the dice or be blown away by Johnny’s gun, which is aimed directly at his temple. Joey Bishop is funny as a fast talking used car salesman and his feeble attempts at making a play at the beautiful Dare (Elizabeth Montgomery). John McGiver is equally fun as a perplexed store manager who brings in a woman to his office after finding that she has been writing a lot of bad checks. The exchange he has with her is a perfect example of why sexual innuendos where a lot more interesting and creative back in the old days when the standard didn’t allow them to be as crass and vulgar as they are now. Here the lady states “I can make those bad checks good.” And McGiver responds after eyeing her figure “Yes, I think you can!”
Telly Savalas is wasted. The man is a great character actor especially as a villain. Playing a tough crime boss from Brooklyn is his forte and he could have really gone with it had they given him a bigger part. Marc Lawrence is equally evil as Colini and showing him only in one scene and then disappearing was disappointing. Jim Backus’s appearance was a mistake. A funny, talented man for sure, but I didn’t like that he did his Mr. Magoo laugh several times here as it did not fit the gritty mood.
Henry Silva has proven to be a great villain throughout his career, but in this role it just doesn’t work. His eyes have a weird type of stare that makes it look like he has been drugged. He delivers his lines in a monotone fashion. The character becomes overblown and some may find his use of the karate chop to be a bit cheesy. He kills a man on an escalator amidst a crowded airport and is able to get away. There are several other scenes where he is able to somehow get into a secure area and kill off people without any explanation for how he was able to do it.
Elizabeth Montgomery, who was at the time the wife of the director, is fantastic. She plays a brunette and does well with a multi-faceted character that goes from helpless victim to conniving double-crosser. She is shown in several scenes wearing no make-up and I liked the naturalistic quality. My only quibble is the scene where she gets roughed up by some gangsters, but the only mark left on her is a bruise on a shoulder even though a few bruises, scratches, and cuts on the face would have been not only more believable, but visually more effective.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: October 2, 1963
Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes
Rated NR (Not Rated)
Director: William Asher
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD, Netflix streaming