Johnny Apollo (1940)

Johnny Apollo (1940) is an inter-generational double identity crime and prison break film noir from early in the cycle.

Directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Tyrone Power and Dorothy Lamour, Johnny Apollo tells the story of the son of a jailed financial and corporate embezzling broker who turns to crime to pay for his father's release.

Tyrone Power fits the title role of Johnny Apollo well. 

The name Johnny Apollo is a crazy, spontaneous, to-heck-with-it whassin-a-name spur of the moment decision for his character Robert Cain, Jr. whose father (played by Edward Arnold) has been jailed for some white collar securities violations, an event which brings his son's soft and privileged life to an end.

Tyrone Power's character tries to play it straight, but it doesn't work out, and he finds that the family name is haunting him, and meaning he can't get any work.

Edward Arnold in Johnny Apollo (1940)

Tyrone Power in Johnny Apollo (1940)

Circumstances put him and gangster Lloyd Nolan together and Power discovers he's got a talent for the rackets, his first action being to beat up fellow gang member Bates, played by reliable film noir stalwart character actor Marc Lawrence. He also attracts the attention of gangster Nolan's girl friend Dorothy Lamour, found lounging on the stair and smoking a louche cigarette.

Lloyd Nolan in Johnny Apollo (1940)

The opening scene between Senior and Junior is suggestive of teenage rebellion and inter-generational struggle before such a thing even existed. This was 10 years before there was a single rock n roll records in the world and 15 years before Rebel Without A Cause — and somewhere and somehow across the course of 1940s film noir, the teenager was going to be born and throw its first tantrum. 

Edward Arnold in Johnny Apollo (1940)

The teenage tantrum shown in Johnny Apollo is strange first of all because the figure — who disowns the son — has no moral ground at all to speak of. The father is a convicted embezzler and is going to prison for five years. The father is in the wrong and has wrecked the son's privileged life, and yet he is still the one who claims the moral power and dramatically disowns the lad. 

Dorothy Lamour in Johnny Apollo (1940)

Soon after he starts working for the gangster Mickey Dwyer, Robert Junior visits Robert Senior in prison and the two reconcile. This doesn't last for long however, and when Robert Senior finds out that Robert Junior has turned to crime, he disowns him once again, refusing to acknowledge his son even exists. It is in fact an thrilling rendition of the "I have no son" trope.

Dorothy Lamour and Tyrone Power in Johnny Apollo (1940)

Lloyd Nolan who went on to become better known for playing a po-faced FBI agent George A. Briggs in The House on 92nd Street (1945) and Boomerang (1947) makes a great villain in fact, and is about the only one in the movie who does not have a heart of gold.

Dorothy Lamour is the lounge singer and gangster's  moll who has a heart of gold. Edward Arnold plays Robert Cain Snr, the embezzler with a heart of gold. And while Tyrone Power turns to crime, he is of course always a moral character beneath it all, despite his sudden aptitude for life on the dark side, and he has a heart of gold.

Charley Grapewin and Dorothy Lamour in Johnny Apollo (1940) — plus 'Apollo'

1940 was a great year for film noir. The style was not yet self-conscious and so noir cinema emerges in an unaware pattern of themes developing directly from the crime films of the 1930s as they try and engage with the censorship of the Production Code to create something thrilling and yet moral, without being moralising.

Lloyd Nolan in Johnny Apollo (1940)

Portraying relationships and crime were challenges under the strictures of The Code and Johnny Apollo makes both exciting. 

Johnny Apollo (1940)

There is still a slight feel of the 1930s in terms of how Johnny Apollo lines up against the classic gangster films of Warner Brothers were which also produced by Daryl Zanuck. Director Henry Hathaway also said that that Johnny Apollo was in its fashion created out of the headlines of those old Zanuck productions. He mentioned in one interview that the story was based on the imaginary reactions a once entitled son would have to the fate of formerly respected financier Richard Whitney's fall from grace after being convicted of embezzlement in 1938. 

Tyrone Power and Marc Lawrence in Johnny Apollo (1940)

Whitney had been Vice-President of the New York Stock Exchange during the 1929 Crash and advanced to President before his retirement in 1935 and his fall from grace into disgrace came a few years later in 1938.

Tyrone Power sports a shiner in Johnny Apollo (1940)

Hathaway, who directed later film noir classics The Dark Corner (1946) and Kiss of Death (1947) creates a noir feel with cinematographer Arthur Miller in a year when film noir was in full formative mode. We find strong bars of darkness, which are vertical, horizontal and criss-crossed and these tend to cover the criminal characters in the film — especially Edward Arnold and Lionel Atwill, playing his lawyer, at the start of the action. 

Marc Lawrence in Johnny Apollo (1940)

The characters are not the fully fledged noir paranoiacs and losers that would emerge across the 1940s, but there is an unusual amount of violence, even if most of it is concealed by furniture. There is the street fight between Marc Lawrence and Tyrone Power — the pistol whipping in the prison library — and a sudden and nasty thorough bitch slapping delivered to Dorothy Lamour by Lloyd Nolan.

Lloyd Nolan fixes up Tyrone Power's black eye with a steak in Johnny Apollo (1940)

Nolan does in front bring a proper taste of noir psychopathy to his character. He's that type of criminal that is charming in one moment and yet is always going to be out for himself before anything else. He  can certainly be charming, and he bonds with Tyrone Power's character in a most male manner early on, quickly becoming big buddies. 

Lloyd Nolan

However we do see what Mickey is capable of when he loses his temper, and it's quick and nasty. 

The rest of the movie is fun. As a low-level criminal Johnny himself may not be believable, and as a prisoner with a short sentence, he opts immediately for a jailbreak. 

Johnny Apollo does not fully qualify for a place in the category of doubles and twins in film noir, and yet the theme of the double is loosely present — wound up with the idea of a form of teenage rebellion as young Johnny (Tyrone Power) runs into generational conflict with his father.

Charley Grapewin and Dorothy Lamour in Johnny Apollo (1940)

As a teenage rebel, Johnny Apollo is an interesting concept. Go hang it Pops, he seems to say, dropping out of his Ivy League-style life and making his own way, after a face to face showdown with the old boy. 

It's interesting that it's out there in the real world that he morphs into a criminal, partly under the influence of his new friend Mickey and the money he can make — but partly because it is fun. Once smashed in the face and holding a cold steak to his eye in order to heal a bruise, Robert Junior becomes Johnny Apollo — a sudden criminal with a newly emboldened attitude. 

As the patron deity of Delphi, Apollo was an oracular god — the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle and also the deity of ritual purification. He was also the god of  healing, archery, music and arts, light, knowledge, herds and flocks, and protection of the young — an unusual combination for a criminal and suggestive of the fact that he is a man of both the light and the darkness.

This coming of age then is a flirtation with criminality for Robert Junior, alienated and reunited with his father, only to be alienated and reunited once again. 

Marc Lawrence in Johnny Apollo (1940)

The theme of the double can be pressed across this character, because he does develop a love of crime because he has an aptitude for it. Johnny Apollo is also the excitingly named anti-hero that the Dorothy Lamour character falls for — so Johnny also serves this purpose, the masquerade which leads to love.

At no time does it ever become obvious what Johnny does as an operator in the Dwyer gang, but he is probably some kind of heavy or money collector, although none of this is shown. he maybe just becomes Mickey Dwyer's lover, which would not be a surprise given the intimate nature of their first evening together and how they come to bond.

Males at the show in Johnny Apollo (1940)

Even less unclear is why his father would disown him given the fact that at the start his father is a convicted swindler himself —  but this is a part and parcel of the Apollo fantasy. The story is the young man's unlikely journey to manhood, complete with the attractions and dangers of the world at large including a brief spell of office life, largely tempered by the temptations of crime.

Tyrone Power was a star whose looks remained a vital component of his image throughout his career and these looks one of the reasons he became a star so quickly. In Johnny Apollo (1940) fans are treated early on to a scene of him in his 1940s swimwear.

Director Henry Hathaway, very present at the birth of film noir, went on to make many fine examples of the style. Hathaway subsequently entered a period that was notable for his film noirs and semi-documentary style films. The influential The House on 92nd Street (1945) was an exciting docudrama about Nazis trying to steal atomic bomb secrets during World War II. 

The classic film noir The Dark Corner (1946) also earned critical praise, with a solid cast that included Mark Stevens, William Bendix, Clifton Webb, and Lucille Ball. 

With 13 Rue Madeleine (1947), Hathaway grafted noir visuals onto an espionage thriller with fine results; James Cagney was especially effective as a resilient OSS agent. 

Kiss of Death (1947) is one of Hathaway’s most well known and exciting of Hathaway's films and another classic film noir, while Call Northside 777 (1948), another film noir, starred James Stewart as a crusading reporter who risks his life to save a convicted killer he believes to be innocent.

Hathaway briefly changed gears to make Down to the Sea in Ships (1949), with Richard Widmark as a 19th-century whaler, and You’re in the Navy Now (1951), a World War II comedy with Gary Cooper and Jane Greer. 

He then returned to crime dramas with Fourteen Hours (1951), which starred Richard Basehart and introduced Grace Kelly to the screen.

Finally, Johnny Apollo is one of many so-called Johnny — film noirs. There isn't any solid reason why this minor genre exists at all and any commonality among them, save for the fact that Johnny is the name given to a kind of everyman, and of all the Johnnys in the Johnny — film noirs, many like this one, Johnny Apollo, don't strictly exist — or exist as a kind of John Doe — that should be Johnny Doe.

To wit also see:

Johnny Apollo (1940) on Wikipedia.

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