Johnny Angel (1945)

Johnny Angel (1945) is a maritime gold heist mystery murder romance adventure film noir set in New Orleans.

With a sterling film noir cast in George Raft, Claire Trevor, Signe Hasso and Marvin Miller — along with unique local support from Hoagy Carmichael — Johnny Angel is a complex adventure tale set in part at sea and in part in and around the city of New Orleans.

Johnny Angel (1945) was written by Steve Fisher, who had many interesting film noir and Western titles in his credits, including the novel which inspired I Wake Up Screaming (1941) and screenplays for Lady In The Lake (1946), Dead Reckoning (1947), The Hunted (1948), Woman They Almost Lynched (1953), City That Never Sleeps (1953), and Hell's Half Acre (1954) to name a few favourites.

Johnny the titular Captain Angel is a hard-bitten merchant seaman in search of some truth which seems to be buried somewhere well hidden within a family shipping business, run by Marvin the man-child Miller who plays George Gustafson, known as 'Gusty'.

Marvin Miller in Johnny Angel (1945)

Marvin Miller indeed plays something of a man child, a fact indicated by the constant presence of his nurse, played by Margaret Wycherly. Super-suspicious and keenly intelligent it may in fact be the case that this nanny turned company secretary that is running the family business in the place of Gusty, whom at times seems good for little. 

Weasley but wealthy, Marvin Miller's character turns out in the spirit of film noir to be fantastically mad, and likely driven so by his wife played by Claire Trevor — as seen in the come to bed scene, in which his wife Lily conceals a letter opener — as fair a domestic weapon as was seen in noir.

Claire Trevor in Johnny Angel (1945)

Marvin Miller (1913–1985) was an American actor and voice artist known for his distinctive voice, which he lent to various radio, animation, and film projects. While he is perhaps best known for his voice work, including narrating the TV series "The Millionaire," he also had a few roles in film noir.

Dockside noir in Johnny Angel (1945)

In Fritz Lang's classic film noir The Big Heat, Marvin Miller played the role of Larry Gordon. The film stars Glenn Ford as a police detective investigating corruption within his own department. Miller's character is a thug working for the main antagonist, a crime boss played by Alexander Scourby. The Big Heat is notable for its intense storytelling, dark themes, and Miller's contribution to the supporting cast.

Phantom Lady is a firm favourite of the noir style due to its atmospheric elements and suspenseful narrative. In this film, Miller played the role of Cliff Milburn, a drummer in a jazz band. The story follows a woman who tries to prove her husband's innocence in a murder case. Miller's character becomes a crucial element in the unfolding mystery.

Marvin Miller also appeared in film noir Shield For Murder (1954), directed by Howard W. Koch. The movie stars Edmond O'Brien as a corrupt police detective who becomes entangled in a web of crime. Miller played the role of a bartender in this gritty crime drama.

While Marvin Miller's film noir roles may not have been as prominent as those of some other actors in the style, his contributions added to the overall ambiance and narrative complexity of these films. Additionally, his distinctive voice continued to be a significant part of his career, particularly in the realm of radio and animation, where he became well-known for his work in shows like "The Millionaire" and as the original voice of Mr. Magoo in the animated series "The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo."

Signe Hasso and George Raft in Johnny Angel (1945)

Claire Trevor lands the role of the mean femme fatale — the general rule pertaining to this role and roles like it across the 1940s is that she will do anything for money. This involves sneaking, stabbing, pretending to love, offering love, wearing floozy hats and manipulating men wherever possible. 

As a moral pull from the dark-side, her weakness is real love — as an ironic foil to her capacity for fake love — and she is so hopelessly enamoured of George Raft's character Johnny Angel, that she leads him right to the heart of the mystery — which is not in his case where is the gold? but is in fact who shot my father?

George Raft in Johnny Angel (1945)

Many people are shot in the stealing of this stack of gold — it should really be better protected in film noir as it is stolen twice, and it is not always clear by whom. First off however an entire ocean-going vessel's worth of crew are killed in the capture of this loot — and then more thieves after that bite it too.

The wooden acting style of George Raft is put to superlative use in Johnny Angel (1945) where his impassive and immovable face continues to balance the often hectic adventure. To use the adjective wooden in relation to George Raft and in a pejorative fashion is to misunderstand his charm and style. The chief reason that George Raft was such a popular actor with directors is that his immobile, impassive, static, stock-still and pat face was perfect for the big screen. 

George Raft in Johnny Angel (1945)

George Raft did face several challenges and hardships in his life and Raft's experiences were marked by difficulties and personal struggles. George Raft had connections to the world of organized crime, particularly during his early years in New York City. He was friends with several mobsters, and there were rumours about his involvement in illegal activities. While he maintained that he was merely acquainted with these individuals, his association with the criminal underworld affected his public image.

George Raft in Johnny Angel (1945)

Claire Trevor in Johnny Angel (1945)

Raft was also known for turning down roles that went on to become iconic, such as the lead role in Casablanca (1942) and Double Indemnity (1944). These decisions had an impact on his career trajectory, and he missed out on the chance to be part of some of Hollywood's most celebrated films.

Despite his success in Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s, Raft faced financial challenges. He had a penchant for gambling and reportedly lost substantial amounts of money in casinos, contributing to financial difficulties later in his life.

Louisiana ambience in Johnny Angel (1945)

Raft's personal life was marked by a series of marriages and divorces. His relationships were often tumultuous, and he faced challenges in maintaining stable personal connections.

While Raft achieved success in the early years of his acting career, his popularity waned in the post-World War II period. Changes in the industry and shifts in audience preferences contributed to a decline in his career.

Hoagy Carmichael in Johnny Angel (1945)

Despite these challenges, George Raft did have a long and varied career in Hollywood, with notable roles in films like Scarface (1932) and Each Dawn I Die (1939). He is more than well-represented in the files of classic film noir.

Raft stomps from bar to bar in New Orleans to find the mystery woman he seeks, easily spotted as French by her wearing of a beret. This is Signe Hasso in a sympathetic role which sometimes slips from sympathetic to pathetic, as she hides plot elements from Raft — and so from the viewer.

Signe Hasso and Jack Overman in Johnny Angel (1945)

She is a brave and resourceful wartime woman however, surviving murder, robbery, hi-jack and abandonment at sea, where she saves an entire vessel from sinking by applying some elbow grease to the sea-cocks. After smuggling herself on land after having survived this massacre and attempted scuttling, she negotiates New Orleans with its bars, predators and other social ills, only to finally trust George Raft's static face long enough to confide in him the backstory of the movie.

When students of the style study film noir, there are a regular set of rules and tropes and styles and themes and appearances which usually appear. However the aspects of fantasy and adventure are both usually overlooked — even though both are central to the majority of film noir as it is enjoyed.

Pastoral moments in Johnny Angel (1945)

Johnny Angel (1945) serves well to indicate these two aspects of 1940s film making, most especially as it pertains to film noir. Film noir is in its 1940s iterations at least usually dealing with fantasy — insofar as it is a world away from reality. Fantasy involves such as aspects as mysterious coincidence, beautiful women and men who seem attracted to each other, and the ability to win fights and knock people out. Other fantasy elements include large houses, and lives which transform around wealth and riches — with an emphasis on extremes of morality usually in the form of plainly bad characters, usually after a pot of money that is often as in this case, stolen to begin with.

Film noir is always a world of adventure, too, although adventures are often domestic and suburban and so don't seem typical of the Hollywood adventure form, which generally involved travel and other exotica. 

in Johnny Angel (1945)

However gun battles, fights, the risks and excitements of saloons and bar rooms, beautiful women usually considered as prizes and often otherwise considered as traps — and descents into criminal underworlds — are all adventure tropes.

In Johnny Angel (1945) all of this is highlighted by the maritime aspects which are quite adventuresome and varied, and the more-exotic-than-usual for film noir setting of New Orleans, which in this instance allows for the casting of Hoagy Carmichael as well as some beautiful French Quarter scenery, setting and props.

in Johnny Angel (1945)

Claire Trevor comes and goes through this movie with quite a degree of radiance flashing in her eyes as she confuses the action all the way to the final of several climaxes.

Johnny Angel is an adaptation of Charles G. Booth’s novel Mr. Angel Comes Aboard, and was directed by Edwin L. Marin, a New Jersey-born filmmaker who mostly worked on Westerns. Marin has no critical cachet remaining today, although he debuted with The Death Kiss (1932), a great thriller with a Hollywood insider spin, and did notably vivid work on the 1938  A Christmas Carol

Johnny Angel is well-handled enough to suggest Marin had resources that may have gone untapped and he would die at the age of 52 a mere six years later. 

In an exciting fogbound opening, where the two ships resolve out of the murk, Johnny Angel does ship with a peculiar atmosphere, as if there may be sublime forces at work, for which also see Hoagy Carmichael's character — called Celestine.

in Johnny Angel (1945)

At one point, the villain Tom Jewell reveals he lives in an incredible art deco cliff-top lair, a spread much beloved of many later Hollywood bad guys, and here rather spectacularly framed despite it being somewhat incongruous with the New Orleans coastline. New Orleans is located in a relatively flat and low-lying region, and it does not have the steep coastal cliffs that are often associated with some coastal areas. The geography around New Orleans is characterized by the Mississippi River delta and marshlands rather than rugged coastal cliffs.

Still it is worth it for a surprising denouement, one of at least two major climaxes in Johnny Angel (1945). 

in Johnny Angel (1945)

Johnny Angel is a film full of film noir bedevilment. Gusty holds a long-lingering resentment for Johnny as his tougher and more upright peer and he is also in thrall partially to his former nanny turned secretary and general overseer Miss Drumm (Margaret Wycherly), composing the kind of psychologically warped relationship that film noir specialised in. Claire Trevor as Lilah smirks and schemes underneath an arrangement of blonde hair like an ice castle, putting the moves on Johnny while stoking jealousy in her husband forcing a pure erotic masochism in him. 

Margaret Wycherly would later play the monstrous film noir maternal figure Ma Jarret a few years later in White Heat (1949).

Premiere Information: Los Angeles opening: week of 25 Oct 1945

Production Date: 27 Nov 1944--mid Jan 1945

ClaimantDate Copyright Number RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.24 August 1945 LP13631

Sound RCA Sound System

Duration(in mins):76 or 79

Johnny Angel (1945) at Wikipedia

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