• Johnny Cool

    Released by: MGM Limited Edition Collection
    Released on: 6/14/2011
    Director: William Asher
    Cast: Henry Silva, Elizabeth Montgomery, Sammy Davis Jr., Telly Savalas
    Year: 1963

    The Movie:

    William Asher’s 1963 mobster movie Johnny Cool was produced by none other than Rat Pack member Peter Lawford, which explains why Ocean’s 11 actor Henry Silva got the lead and why Sammy Davis Jr. not only sings two songs in the movie but also has a small supporting role. It probably goes a long way towards explaining Joey Bishop’s cameo too, and to explaining why so much of it takes place in New York City and Las Vegas.

    Hard to see until MGM wised up and released this MOD DVD-R release, the film begins in 1943 in Sicily where a young boy named Salvatore Giordano sees his mother gunned down by fascists. He picks up a gun and calls it the only family he has, and before you know it he’s all grown up (now played by Henry Silva) and sporting a great fake beard in his new role as a beloved small town mafia boss. When a bigger mob boss named Johnny Colini (Marc Lawrence) sets up a fake death for Giordano, he sets into place a plan that will see Giordano take his name and head to the United States to get revenge on the American mobsters who had him deported.

    Before you know it, Giordana is calling himself Johnny Colini, but is better known as Johnny Cool, a stone cold murder machine! He flies to New York, wanders around Times Square for a minute or two (check out the marquee with Sins Of The Flesh playing in the background!) and hits a restaurant where he hopes to meet some contacts who will let him know ‘where the action is.’ These mafia contacts are understandably suspicious, so Johnny karate chops them right there at the bar which somehow manages to win him the affections of curvy divorcee Darien Guiness (Elizabeth Montgomery). The two hit it off but soon enough the F.B.I. want a piece of Johnny and send some toughs to rough up for Darien. She gets raped and Johnny heads out to stab her attackers, all while planning his way to the top of the American mafia ladder.

    He hits up an underground gambling parlor where he gets into it with an eye patch wearing craps expert named Educated (Sammy Davis Jr.) but when turns sour and Johnny has to rough some guys up, he winds up on the wrong side of mob boss Vincenzo Santangelo (Telly Savalas). Johnny and Darien collaborate on the second part of their plan, which takes them to Vegas where they blow stuff up, and it looks like Johnny’s going to single handedly eliminate everyone who stands in his way, even a mobster named Mort Sahl (Ben Morrow) who offers him some kindly advice. But while Johnny is killing his way across the U.S.A., those who he’s out to take from decide they’ve had enough.

    A mix between Point Blank and Massacre Mafia Style, Johnny Cool is a movie drenched in bad ass cult appeal. Not only is there the Rat Pack connection on the production side and the Vegas settings, but Sammy Davis Jr. croons two tracks – the opening title number, and a twisting love song that plays in a scene where a drunken Darien does the twist with some random dude on a boat called ‘Bee Bum.’ David himself shows up sporting an eye-patch and looking as ridiculous as possible, while Savalas, not quite completely bald here (he’s got a bit of hair going on around the sides of his head) chews through whatever scenery he can quite admirably.

    Plot wise, Duke Mitchell had to have seen this movie (he too hung out with the Rat Pack so it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility!) as Massacre Mafia Style, made years later, follows a very similar path. The way Mitchell's later film follows suit in terms of its take on the Americanization of the mafia and its reverence for the old ways of Italian 'families' is definitely on the same track as this picture, however. Also interesting is how Silva's character mirrors Lee Marvin's character in Point Blank - both men criminals Hell-bent on getting what's theirs but who operate within their own self structured code.

    That said, the story here isn’t the most original mobster tale ever told, and if the film has a weakness, it’s the predictability of the final half hour. What it does though, it does really damn well. Shockingly violent at times, the film lets Silva work his way through the film with equal parts grimace and charm, taking care of his foes with a karate chop, a kitchen knife, a machine gun, a pistol, or his bare hard assed fists! Leading man material all the way at this point in his career, he absolutely owns the picture and we’re all the better for it. The film moves along at a great pace, makes good use of its various locations (and some obvious soundstage sets as well), zips to the beat of a pretty killer score and is completely slick on a visual level. Definitely a film that deserves a wider audience than it has.


    MGM’s 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks pretty good. The black and white image does show some wear and tear and some scenes show a good bit more print damage than others making it easy to tell what scene came from where, but overall the image is pretty stable and it looks good in widescreen. Contrast is decent, black levels reasonably solid though never quite reference quality, and detail good as well. There’s some heavy shimmering noticeable on some of the patterns on the suit coats that Sammy Davis Jr. and Henry Silva wear in the craps table scene, but other than that things are fine.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track, there are no alternate language tracks or subtitles provided. The clarity is generally fine, though there are bits that sound a little flat, which likely stems back to the source. Minor hiss is present once or twice but if you’re not listening for it you probably won’t be bothered by it.

    The disc includes a static menu, chapter selection and the film’s original trailer, which is an interesting one as it features a lot of footage shot just for the trailer, not seen in the movie, in which some of the key players spill their guts as to what they know about Johnny Cool.

    The Final Word:

    As cynical as it is entertaining, Johnny Cool might be a bit tough to take seriously, but who cares! When a movie delivers Silva at his karate chopping machine gunning best you sure won’t. Throw in a decade’s worth of oddball guest stars, a swingin’ soundtrack and a genuinely interesting storyline and this all adds up to ‘can’t miss’ entertainment.

    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Todd Jordan's Avatar
      Todd Jordan -
      Elizabeth Montgomery....DROOOOOOOOL
    1. Paul Casey's Avatar
      Paul Casey -
      Henry Silva looks like Chevy Chase and Robert Z'dar made the fuck.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      You're both right.
    1. Horace Cordier's Avatar
      Horace Cordier -
      This is around the time that Silva was on both the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and Karloff's THRILLER tv series. And Savalas on TWILIGHT ZONE. Great to see these guys so early in their careers.
    1. Nolando's Avatar
      Nolando -
      does the karate-chop action of henry silva smell like monkey?!?
    1. rockshockpop0's Avatar
      rockshockpop0 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Paul Casey View Post
      Henry Silva looks like Chevy Chase and Robert Z'dar made the fuck.
      ...i was thinking that henry silva looks like chevy chase & jack palance made sweet sweet love. ha!