I heard about this film while listening to Elric Kane and Brian Saur’s priceless “Pure Cinema” podcast, an impossibly nerdy celebration of all things film. Their two part examination of David Lynch’s work is a perfect example of what makes them so great.
But I digress…
What makes “Johnny Cool” interesting to me is that it is a perfect pop culture artifact from a point in history just before The Beatles changed everything. Released in 1963, it was like one of the last S.O.S. from a form of pop entertainment that was about to run its course.
Even for me, it’s a strange movie – I kind of recognize this world, but not really. The theme song sets the stage, and what an opening. At first listen I thought it was cheesy, but before it finished I was sold. A rat-pack singer over a killing big-band doesn’t get much better than this. Hard to believe, but at one time songs like this would be recorded in their entirety live in a single take.
That’s right – the singer actually singing the tune live with the studio orchestra. No mixing, and no overdubs. Don’t try this at home!
I love modern music and technology; there’s always interesting stuff being released. But it’s hard to believe this level of excellence was the norm back then.
A young Henry Silva plays the title character – a murderous sociopath out for revenge. These characters would become his stock in trade, and this film shows why – with that face and those eyes, he didn’t seem to be acting.
The actors filling out the cast are priceless: Mort Sahl, Joey Bishop, a very young Elizabeth Montgomery, Telly Savalas with hair (kind of), Sammy Davis, Jim Backus – you get the picture.
And best of all – shot on location in NYC – in beautiful black and white.
Johnny fucking Cool. Not for everyone, and, truth be told, not even a great film. But if you want to see a very entertaining artifact of what the world was like in 1963, look no further.