Johnny Eager (1941)

Director:

Mervyn LeRoy

Cinematography by

Harold Rosson
District Attorney’s daughter falls in love with a gangster the D.A. is trying to put in jail.
A good forties gangster film!

6 August 2003 | by Woody Martin (Vanright@hotmail.com) (Bklyn. New York) – See all my reviews

Robert Taylor was just great in this film, Van Heflin was great as well. Taylor as a likeable bad guy with class, you can’t help but root for him in the end, wishing for a happy ending, but knowing that this likeable gangster will go out in blaze of glory. I wish it were available on a DVD format, they don’t make them like this any more!

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Enchanting film-noir with endearing performances

7/10
Author:Jugu Abraham (jugu_abraham@yahoo.co.uk)from Trivandrum, Kerala, India
13 January 2003

Just as Sydney Greenstreet is unforgettable in “The Maltese Falcon”, Van Heflin’s role in Johnny Eager is memorable. Heflin won an Academy Award for this role that would be a dream role for any serious actor. The role provides superb lines, wide emotional range and an unusual character for a Forties movie. A weeping Heflin would be arresting to even a casual viewer. Several years later, Heflin played a somewhat similar but rugged and drunk Musketeer with a broken marriage in “The Three Musketeers.” The casting of “Johnny Eager” is the secret to its success.

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Robert Taylor made a name as the good looking good guy in the movies, but he is even better when he plays the bad guy in a handful of films. This is one such example. The strength of this role is his ability to transform from a likable good guy into a steely, gangster with an eye-brow movement and a subtle variation in his voice. Yet amongst the several negative roles (“Conspirator”, “Undercurrent”, “Ride, Vaqeuro”, “The Night Walker”), Taylor in “Johnny Eager” is able to present the versatile actor he was.

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The lovely Lana Turner is overshadowed by Taylor and Heflin, not just by the script but their individual performances. Usually Turner overshadows her male colleagues.

The film would never have stood out but for the script (Grant and Mahin) and the direction (LeRoy). The opening sequence and the ending sequence are well crafted and can stand alongside the best of film noir. I am surprised that this work gets often overlooked in discussions about the best examples of the genre. I found the film richly entertaining and well-made.

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T(aylor) +T(urner)=Dynamite!

Author:retro_gal
5 December 2003

“Johnny Eager” was the one and only movie film god and goddess Robert Taylor and Lana Turner made together, which is very puzzling–their single pairing raked in the dough at the box office, and the fact that they were both under long-term contract to the same studio, MGM, made it such that no pesky and expensive loan-outs from other studios would be necessary (in fact, Taylor has the distinction of being MGM’s longest contract star, with Turner not far behind) . But however lamentable that is, much consolation can be garnered from the fact that their lone film is a very memorable and excellent one, with a solid storyline, good direction, great casting and flawless performances by all.

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In a marvelously inspired decision, Robert Taylor was cast in the title role as Johnny Eager, Gangster–quite a departure, to say the least, from his previously romantic matinee idol roles which established him as a star. At first glance the perfectly handsome, gentlemanly Taylor would seem woefully miscast, but proves otherwise–he holds his perfect features with such an air of menace and calculation and acts every inch the tough guy, both of which are completely convincing. One never gets the sense that he is “trying” to be a heavy, he simply is. In fact, “Johnny Eager” would be the start of a new phase in Taylor’s career where, like actors such as Dick Powell and fellow MGM star Robert Montgomery, he would cut loose from his light, “nice guy” leading man roles and emerge with a much darker, harder-edged “flawed hero” if not “bad man” persona. In this film he does so terrifically as the cynical, selfish, big time recently parolled hood who’s only priorities are money and avoiding a return to the big house.

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He faces problems with each when he is unable to get a license from any judge to open up his greyhound racing racket, and when the daughter of the prosecutor who sent him away falls for him. But the cunning and ruthless Johnny Eager sees how he can use the girl and her father to meet his own ends and cleverly concocts a devious, heartless scheme to do so–but things don’t turn out as expected when the unexpected happens and he genuinely falls for her.

And how could any man not? Lana Turner plays the part of the prosecutor-judge’s daughter, sociology student Lisbeth Bard, who has the power to make any bad man rue his rotten ways–she is captivating with her luscious, luxe blond beauty (which in her physical prime was such that she often is considered by “critics,” whoever they may be, as one of cinema’s greatest beauties, and justifiably so. In fact, in the relatively recent “Femme Fatale,” Rebecca Romijn-Stamos was made up to look like Lana) and warm sensuality blended with a slightly cool sultriness.

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She simply shimmers and sparkles, glitters and gleams like a white diamond. Her rapport and sexual chemistry with Taylor is so palpable and electrifying that I consider him one of her best leading men, alongiside only John Garfield in “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. In fact, during filming the two had an affair and their powerful attraction translates onto film. Though Turner was, with good reason, known more for her riveting looks, glamorous sex appeal and strong screen presence rather than her acting ability, in this film she turns in a truly depthful, sincere, multi-faceted performance, running the gamut from cool, assessing fascination to frantic, desperate angst, which probably had a lot to do with the fact that she was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, her trusted mentor back from her starlet days at Warner Bros., who “brought” her with him when he moved over to MGM.

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The dynamic Edward Arnold is good as usual as Lisbeth’s lawyer father, who is alternately sinister and sympathetic because of his willingness to do anything to protect his beloved daughter, whether it be from Johnny Eager or from jail time, even if it means forsaking his honesty and breaking the law which he has promised to uphold. Despite the sterling performances of these actors, it is Van Heflin who steals the show (and won the AA for Best Supporting Actor) in his star turn as Johnny’s best and only friend Jeff Hartnett, and a strange one at that–a maudlin, conscious-ridden, cerebral alcoholic, the type who seems like he would be the last person fit for the criminal world. But despite this, he sticks with Johnny, and the viewer (or at least I did) truly gets the sense that there is a homoerotic bond, at least on Heflin’s part.

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This is good stuff and I highly recommend it. If you are into film noirs, then this is a must see.

p.s. Someone flippantly dismissed Turner as a sort of 2nd rate Veronica Lake–that is definitely not true, for it can be argued that Turner became a star around or even before Lake did and despite their sultry, stunning blond looks and charisma, the two had distinct personas of their own and were not “interchangeable.” Although one could never go so far as to say Lake was mysterious, she was somewhat inscrutable and “cool-er”, something Turner was not. And while Lake definitely did have sufficient star quality, Lana had much more of it, and what’s more, she also had a strong audience rapport–something that enabled her to remain a star even when her looks started to fade and despite the shock over the Stompanato Scandal. Lake was a star mostly on the basis of her hairdo, and when it went out of vogue or she changed it, interest in her waned. I say this as a fan of both of these marvelous ladies.

giphy

don’t doubt Robert Taylor

2 January 2007 | by RanchoTuVu (Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico) – See all my reviews

A parolee masquerades as a cabby while running a dog racing track on the side. As the film opens, he has an interview with his parole officer, and then goes to the track, which is under an injunction from the D. A. who had sent him to prison in the first place and who’s step-daughter (Lana Turner) he later falls in love with, enters the exterior of his office, puts on one of his expensive sport coats, and becomes the head of a rather extensive gambling racket. For doubters of Robert Taylor, this could make them believers as he rises well above this fantasy like story that wants to be a tough crime drama but refuses to be gritty enough to sink into a convenient gutter. Nonetheless, Taylor puts a lot of punch into his part, outshining the film’s Oscar winner Van Heflin, who plays his heavy drinking philosophizing associate.

johny little

Van Heflin shines in this MGM gangster film

10/10
Author:reelguy2from Boulder, Colorado
17 November 2004

MGM produced this well-written, well-produced gangster saga, a type of film that was very unusual for the studio.

As the alcoholic, self-loathing, philosophizing buddy of Johnny Eager (Robert Taylor), Heflin steals the show. He plays his role with great intensity and complexity, making his performance one of the most deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscars in the history of the Academy Awards. His crying scenes are enough to choke a person up, and his possible suggestion of a homoerotic attraction to Eager is unique in a film of this era.

johnny ffff

It’s unfortunate that Heflin’s subsequent roles and performances were generally dull. This actor needed roles that put him emotionally on the edge and exploited his intensity. But at least in Johnny Eager, Heflin set a standard for screen acting that remains a role model to this day.

Robert Taylor plays his scenes with Heflin with some dramatic tension and a hint of subtext, while still remaining comfortably within the confines of a handsome Hollywood leading man. Turner delivers her lines very artificially, coming across as insincere, and her face seems incapable of expressing emotion. Beautiful she is, but given the taut script, the director had the potential of eliciting less formulaic playing from her. Luckily, the rest of the cast is excellent -especially Edward Arnold and Robert Sterling.

Watch this one and you won’t be disappointed. Heflin’s performance is worth it all.

 

Johnny-Eager-1941-11

A sesquipedalian Heflin!

Author: sandra small (sandi_small@muchomail.com) from gateshead, tyne and wear, england, uk
20 December 2008

The celebrated German philosopher Immanual Kant’s premise of theory was that there is no originality, because we are influenced by what we experience. In that case Johnny Eager (1942)is a clichéd gangster film. But the clichéd roles give way to nuanced characters, which have originality within their various slants of their respective stereotypes. Director Leroy achieves this by adding to the clichés of sharp suited mobsters and their dolls anomalies as in the emotional, erudite gangster with ethics.

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A classic stereotype, (well observed and researched by the production team) is that of Lana Turner’s character; Lizbeth Bard. She is the clichéd sociology student. That is she is a middle class naive ingénue, whose fascination with her subject matter gets her in too deep. This role gave Turner credibility as an actor! Likewise, the film gave Taylor the credibility he deserved as an actor of dimensions. His caricature of the solipsistic gangster gave him an edge which usurped his ‘pretty boy’ image.

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Nevertheless Taylor’s Johnny Eager seems to have a sense of his beauty that has the women running to him. One example is the scene when the women run to serve him at the desk near the start of the film. This begs the question of was Johnny Eager’s looks that had the women eating out of his hand? or was it his ‘gangster’ image that attracted them? Could Eager have had the women falling for him with just looks alone? His character wouldn’t be half as sexy in the role of Bard’s other love interest, that of the sweet, well intentioned good -guy as in Robert Sterling’s character; Jimmy Courtney.

johnny tto

The other stand out performance (deserved of his Oscar) is that of Van Heflin playing the complex ,sesquipedalian and polymath, Jeff Hartnett. He is the cerebral side kick of Eager. Like the women, he has got in too deep with Eager because of his homo erotic attraction to the latter.

Mention should also go to the excellent turns by Edward Arnald as the over protective Dad, who has come from nothing,making it as a respectable lawyer, with ambitions for his daughter to marry a wealthy socialite with a good name. His over protectiveness as Bard’s Dad gives way to a subtext of incest. This has Hartnett (Heflin) mention the famous psychologist Freud.

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Also outstanding in this film is the clever script, which is evidently well researched, as in the example of the naive sociology student. The direction of the film is a credit to Mervyn LeRoy who portrays the clichéd caricatures of the characters to almost perfection. . The film takes allot of twists and turns, which defines it as ‘film noir’.

This was the film that altered the career of Robert Taylor, transforming him from a ‘pretty boy’ film star to a credible actor. It definitely is worth seeing.

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Cabbie by day, gangster by night, and hunk – always!

8/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
15 August 2006

Robert Taylor is a reformed gangster on parole at the beginning of “Johnny Eager.” After meeting with his parole officer and two sociology students – one of whom is the gorgeous Lana Turner – Johnny transforms himself into the gangster he has remained. It’s in this identity that he runs into Turner again at a nightclub. The gangster interests her more than the cabbie. Little does he know, her father is the prosecutor who has an injunction to keep a dog track from opening in which Johnny has a financial stake.

johnny taxi

According to Lana Turner, she and Taylor flirted and made out, and Taylor told Stanwyck he wanted a divorce. Turner didn’t want to break up the marriage and told Taylor it was no go. Stanwyck, however, never spoke to Turner again. Turner and Taylor make a beautiful couple and they sizzle on screen.

Both turn in excellent performances. Turner plays a love-struck, vulnerable young woman who will do anything to protect her man – she’s great. Taylor, sporting a mustache, is terrific as Johnny – a goody two shoes around his parole officer, a mean, selfish tough guy around everyone else. He has no idea how to love or to be loved.

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Van Heflin won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as Johnny’s friend Jeff, an alcoholic philosopher and Johnny’s conscience. Heflin plays up the sensitivity of Jeff and his love for Johnny, giving the role gay overtones. He is fantastic.

If you’re under the impression that Taylor and Turner were just two of Hollywood’s non-acting pretty people, think again. During their careers, both played many worthwhile roles and played them well. If the critics dismissed them because of their looks, or in Turner’s case, the headlines she garnered in her private life, too bad, but the audience always got their money’s worth with these two pros.

Wonderful film!

johnny gof

Badge 711

7/10
Author: sol from Brooklyn NY USA
24 January 2005

(Some Spoilers) Davilishly handsome Robert Taylor as paroled crime bigwig Johnny Eager with the eye-popping gorgeous 21 year-old Lana Turner as Lisbeth Brad. As well as Van Heflin who received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as Johnny’s sad sack drunk and scholarly pal Jeff Hartenett put on quite a show in the MGM glossy crime/drama “Johnny Eager”.

johnny good
Doing his parole as a taxi driver Johnny Eager is still secretly running his old crime organization with that cold and hard-fisted efficiency that he ran it before he was sent up the river to the state penitentiary. At his monthly parole board hearing Johnny meets two sociology students Lisbeth Bard and Judy Sanford, Lana Turner and Dana Lewis, and both fall, Judy outwardly and Lisbeth secretly, for the good-looking former hoodlum.

Later Johnny again meets Lisbeth at a nightclub that he was doing business with and learns that she’s the step-daughter of State DA and the man who put him behind bars John Benson Farrell, Edward Arnold. Johnny has all the top police and politicians paid off to allow him to go back to business as top city crime boss. Eeryone but the straight and honest DA Farrell who swore to do everything to put Johnny back in prison.

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With Lisbeth madly in love with Johnny he sees a chance to take advantage of her blind passion for him to his benefit. Getting Lisbeth up at his pad he has one of his hoods Julio, Paul Stewart, break in and get into a fight with him. As Julio has Johnny on the floor and is about to knife him Johnny screams to Lisbeth to shoot him with his gun and she does killing Julio saving Johnny’s life. Unknown to Lisbeth the gun had blanks and Julio was anything but dead but the thought on her part of killing someone drove Lisbeth into a deep depression.

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Johnny uses the fact of Lisbeth’s guilt to blackmail her step-father DA Farrell to stop hounding him. At the same time have him approve of Johnny opening the dog racetrack, run by his mob! Something which DA Farrell publicly avowed never to sanction.

Not realizing how much Lisbeth is in love with him this whole plan backfires on Johnny when she tells him that she’s willing to take the rap for him! This in order to keep Johnny out of prison for being at the scene of the crime. With Julio alive this would show not only Lisbeth, who Johnny didn’t really care that much for, but her step-father the State DA what a low-life louse he is and throw him back in the clink this time for good.

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Never really loving anyone Johnny’s attraction to Lisbeth and her selfless love for him turned out to be his downfall. Trying to tell Lisbeth that Julio was alive and that she has nothing to feel guilty about only makes Lisbeth fall more in love with Johnny. Lisbeth thinking that he’s trying to keep her from going to jail for saving his life by killing Julio. In desperation Johnny now sees that the only way he can get out of this dangerous situation is to make sure that Julio is really dead and this turns out to be a fatal mistake on Johnny’s part.

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Robert Taylor is darkly handsome and effective as the ruthless Johnny Eager as he finds out that his good looks and success with women turned out to be his Achilles Heel. There was a heart-breaking scene at the dog-track when one of Johnny Eager’s former girlfriends Mea, Glenda Farrell, tried to get him to use his influence to get her husband police officer Joe Agridowski, Byron Shores, back on his old beat. That way he can spend more time with her and their three kids. It takes officer Argidowski twice as long to go to work and back from where he’s assigned to now and it’s injuring his feet from walking the twice as long beat.

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Johnny coldly and unfeeling turns the desperate Mea down even though he could have easily helped her husband. Later there ironically turned out to be a bit of poetic justice for Mea and her husband Joe in the final scene of the movie at Johnny Eager’s expense.

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