Johnny One-Eye (1950)

“So add it to my scrapbook.”

A double-crossing crook is killed by his two partners in crime, and then after splitting their ill-gotten gains, they go their separate ways. Years pass. One man Martin (Pat O’Brien) leaves his criminal past behind and learns that it’s far more lucrative to work within the system greasing the wheels of commerce by bribing city officials. The other man, Dane Cory (Wayne Morris) still leads a shady life as a hood, but now he’s a hood with money and is financing a musical show for his gorgeous dancer girlfriend, Lily White (Dolores Moran). But when Martin discovers that Cory has ratted him out, and he’s about to be arrested, he’s forced to go underground. With his accounts and assets frozen, he thirsts for revenge, and decides to confront Cory.

Martin, injured, on the run, and also on the hunt for Cory, finds shelter in an abandoned house. But in Martin’s miserable, hunted state, one creature reaches out and offers comfort–a small, friendly one-eyed dog. Martin promptly identifies with the dog’s plight and names him Johnny One-Eye. A little girl named Elsie (Gayle Reed) comes looking for the dog. It seems that her mother’s brutish boyfriend beat the dog and ejected him from the family home. Soon Martin realizes that little, self-possessed Elsie shares a home with none other than his arch nemesis–Dane Cory….

Johnny One-Eye is a decent B film–and while its sentimental elements go into overdrove, these features of the film are so well done, that overall this little film is quite effective. Although the film doesn’t resort to any heavy-handed devices such as images of clocks ticking, there’s definitely a sense here that time is running out. Time is running out for Martin, Cory and also poor Johnny One-Eye. In another sense, Elsie’s childhood innocence and faith is also in jeopardy. In Cory, she’s met pure evil, and this is where the dividing line between the crooks, Martin and Cory comes in. Cory hates children and animals, and Martin doesn’t. Cory is beyond redemption, but underneath it all, Martin still clings to some elements of human decency.

This is a strange little film–directed by Robert Florey and based on a novel by Damon Runyan. While it’s touted as noir, it’s more crime drama. There are some odd minor characters in the film–a man on the street who quotes Byron, for example, and then there’s the peculiar veterinarian (Donald Woods)–a strange character who seems to live in the dark shadows of his pet shop. 

My Alpha DVD version of this film is problematic. The interior scenes are overly dark. White rings and blotches appear several times throughout the film, and at one point the entire picture scrambles. There’s a loud hiss evident, and this necessitates turning the volume up. The film ‘jumps’ and frequently skips words. So if you happen to have an old VHS tape of the film, you probably want to hang onto it.

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