Brian’s review published on Letterboxd:
208th film of 2021: Johnny O'Clock (Rossen, 1947) released by Columbia in February this is an outstanding example of noir style and themes. The debut feature of director Robert Rossen who the following year directs the Oscar winning All the King's Men, which like this film contains an air of pessimism, fatality, and darkness thanks to Rossen's direction and screenplay. This film is also notable for Dick Powell's performance as Johnny O' Clock a suave crook who works as the manager of a high end late-night illegal NYC casino run by Gudio Marchettis (Thomas Gomez). Powell was in the process of rebuilding his star image after years of being the juvenile song and dance man at WB, an image which he traded in for that of a more cynical, world-weary modern man who was good with his mind, words, and fist. Powell plays O' Clock as a man who has all the angles and desperately tries to avoid his past acts of violence, but who when pushed is still able to call upon those violent skills to get by in the world, skills which he is forced to use again when he is setup for the murder of two people: a young hatcheck girl (Nina Foch) at the club and a crooked cop (Jim Bannon) who wants to force O' Clock out of Marchettis organization. Lee J. Cobb is great in the film as the dogged and equally cynical police inspector Koch who wants to arrest both O' Clock and the crooked cop. Evelyn Keyes plays the sister of the hatcheck girl who over a short period falls for Johnny and recognizes that despite his bravado there is some good left in him. Ellen Drew is the femme fatale Nellie Marchettis in the film a woman who despite being married to O' Clock's boss and partner wants nothing more than to get rid of her husband and maintain her high standard of living.
The feeling of urban glamor and alienation is captured throughout the picture thanks to Burnett Guffey's cinematography. Guffey makes great use of low-key lighting, dutch angles, and uneven compositions to depict the seedy world that Johnny O' Clock and his ilk call their home and which investigators like Koch are forced to navigate while trying to maintain law and order in the enclaves of urban America.