This was Rossen's first directorial assignment and it's a good mixture of crime melodrama and black humor, personified in the tough-guy personality of Powell, who had drastically changed his screen image from flyweight crooner to two-fisted gumshoe in MURDER, MY SWEET three years earlier.
Johnny O'Clock is Powell, who has a shaky gambling casino partnership with Gomez. Crooked cop Bannon tries to move in on the operation, ingratiating himself with Gomez and attempting to replace Powell. Foch, Bannon's girl friend, is found dead in her apartment, an apparent suicide, but suspicion
of murder lingers, particularly when Bannon vanishes. Powell is befriended by Keyes, Foch's sister, who believes her sibling was murdered and she asks Powell to investigate. He plays fast and loose with her; his life is already crammed with females, including Gomez's sultry wife, Drew, who has
just given him an expensive watch, one identical to the one she has given her husband. Detective Cobb suspects both Gomez and Powell of murder, especially after Bannon's body is found floating in a nearby river and poison is discovered in Foch's body. Gomez learns about Powell's watch and, in a
jealous rage, gives orders for his partner to be killed, but Powell is too fast for him, escaping. He later confronts Gomez, who pulls a gun and shoots Powell, who returns fire and kills Gomez. Drew comes racing in to claim the spoils--Powell. But when he rejects her, Drew goes berserk, calls the
police, telling them Powell has cold-bloodedly murdered her husband. Powell takes Cobb hostage and prepares to shoot it out with the cops surrounding his place but when he learns that Keyes is outside he admits he loves her, and gives himself up. By then Cobb has figured out the rather obvious
fact that Powell is innocent and the killings were performed by others. The wiseguy gambler appears headed for happiness with Keyes.
Rossen's direction is slick and Powell and supporting cast do much to keep interest high. The dialog is genuinely witty and full of offbeat humor. All of this is to Rossen's credit; he pounded out the superb script. Charles Vidor was originally slated to direct the film but when he refused to work
for Columbia's Harry Cohn, the mogul gave Rossen his first opportunity to direct this expensive film (which cost more than $1 million). Before JOHNNY O'CLOCK was released, word spread that it would be a winner, and it was. Charles Einfeld, who had just formed Enterprise Pictures, was considering
Rossen as the director of a powerful boxing film, BODY AND SOUL, to star John Garfield. He called Cohn and asked to see the yet-to-be-released JOHNNY O'CLOCK so he could decide about Rossen. Snorted the cantankerous Cohn: "I never saw any film by Rossen! I took a chance on him! Why shouldn't you?"
Einfeld did and Rossen produced one of the greatest films on boxing ever made, and he would go on to make another masterpiece, ALL THE KING'S MEN (1949).
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- Rating: NR
- Review: This was Rossen's first directorial assignment and it's a good mixture of crime melodrama and black humor, personified in the tough-guy personality of Powell, who had drastically changed his screen image from flyweight crooner to two-fisted gumshoe in MURD… (more)