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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Johnny Angel (Raft)

Monday, September 28th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Raft_JohnnyAngelLobby1EDITED“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era termsp for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

This essay on Johnny Angel is not about the song sung by Shelly Fabares; though, I do like it. Instead, it’s a nautical noir starring George Raft, now at RKO after what can only be deemed a disappointing career at Warners. Of course, Raft can only blame himself for that, after passing on High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon, and Double Indemnity. You think his career wouldn’t have gone differently with those classics on his resume? However, he actually did make some solid movies at RKO in the mid-to-late forties, and this is one of them. THERE BE SPOILERS HERE! Look – I’m talking about a 75 year old movie here. If I ruin something for you; well, you had plenty of chances to see it before now. Okay?

Here, Raft plays Johnny Angel – a merchant ship captain who followed his father into the same career. His father has simply disappeared, along with his ship. Johnny takes offense at insinuations his father did something wrong, and is determined to find out what happened. Raft makes a decent civilian skipper, with a stiff walk. As always, he’s the toughest guy in the room, glowering at, and verbally berating, weaker characters. And of course, beating up the bad guys. You know what you’re getting in a Raft movie.

The female co-lead is the completely forgettable Signe Hasso (though she’s third-billed). She had a funny role in George Segal’s The Maltese Falcon spoof, The Black Bird. But I don’t think she brings anything to this movie at all. If this had been a Warners flick, Joan Blondell, or Ann Sheridan, or maybe even Sylvia Sidney, would have made this a better film. Her character, Paulette Girard, knows something about Johnny’s father’s disappearance, and she’s on the run.

However, it’s top-billed Claire Trevor who carries the female load. Trevor was a terrific actress and played a number of fine parts in hardboiled and noir films. She didn’t have much screen time as Baby Face Martin’s syphilitic, hooker ex-girlfriend, but she brought another layer of emotional depth to Bogart’s character, in Dead End. She had just shone opposite Dick Powell’s Philip Marlowe in Murder My Sweet, when she made Johnny Angel. And of course, she won an Oscar for Key Largo.

Raft_JohnnyAngelSoloEDITEDTrevor plays Lila, who is married to ‘Gusty’ Gustavus, played by Walter Miller. He’s the boss of the shipping company which Johnny and his father work for. Presumably Lila married for the money and easy life. Ida Lupino played a similar role in They Drive By Night. When she’s not rude to Gusty, she’s indifferent. And she actively pursues Johnny. I think that Trevor delivers the best performance of the film.

Miller was the tough maitre d in Humphrey Bogart’s Dead Reckoning. He constantly called Bogart ‘Friend.’ He was tough in that movie. Here, he’s soft as play-do. Trevor walks all over him, and his lifelong nanny rules him like a domineering mother would. And she sees through Trevor (which anybody but Millar can) and despises her.

The always smooth Hoagy Carmichael is a cabdriver and is an unofficial, and unappreciated, assistant. He serves a Dr. Watson role, so that Raft has somebody to talk to, and to provide information. Raft constantly gets mad at Carmichael and grabs him by the lapels. Without adequate reason. I found it annoying. But Carmichael is so unthreatening, you know he’ll just take it. He does a little singing. It’s a bigger part than he had in To Have and Have Not, though with less musical action.

Lowell Gilmore plays Sam Jewell. I always think of Morris Carnovsky for this type of role. He played it very well in Dead Reckoning. Otto Kruger had the part in Murder My Sweet.

Raft finds out there’s stolen gold involved, which led to his father’s death. Raft plays Trevor like a violin violin, though she turns on him when her infidelity is at risk of exposure. Raft gets to the bottom of things after escaping danger. Fortunately, he punches out everybody who gets in his way. He did that a LOT in his films.

I’m not going to reveal the ending, just in case you haven’t seen the movie, but want to. There’s a confrontation with the main five characters, and there’s shooting. Raft, unlike Bogart, didn’t get gunned down in his movies, of course.

The cinematography isn’t bad, though it’s not as shadowy and ‘noiry’ as Raft’s Nocturne. The movie is based on a story b y Charles G. Booth, who wrote The General Dies at Dawn. Two noted puplsters – Steve Fisher and Frank Gruber – worked on the screenplay.

Johnny Angel isn’t a bad forties hardboiled, noir, movie. It’s not one of the best, but it’s certainly better than many similar forties films. Raft is good enough, though not great. It’s worth putting on the screen and watching.

Prior posts in A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2020 Series (19)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled May on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Some Hardboiled streaming options
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Johnny O’Clock (Dick Powell)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled June on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bullets or Ballots (Humphrey Bogart)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Phililp Marlowe – Private Eye (Powers Boothe)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Cool and Lam
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: All Through the Night (Bogart)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dick Powell as Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled July on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: YTJD – The Emily Braddock Matter (John Lund)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Richard Diamond – The Betty Moran Case (Dick Powell)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bold Venture (Bogart & Bacall)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hardboiled August on TCM
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis – ‘Have one on the House’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand – with Steven H Silver: C.M. Kornbluth’s Pulp
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis – ‘Don’t You Cry for Me’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Talking About Philip Marlowe
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Steven H Silver Asks you to Name This Movie

A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2019 Series (15)
Back Deck Pulp Returns
A (Black) Gat in the Hand Returns
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Will Murray on Doc Savage
Cave_KaneCoverEDITEDA (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hugh B. Cave’s Peter Kane
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Paul Bishop on Lance Spearman
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: A Man Called Spade
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hard Boiled Holmes
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Duane Spurlock on T.T. Flynn
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew Salmon on Montreal Noir
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner on The Bad Guys of Pulp
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Steve Scott on John D. MacDonald’s ‘Park Falkner’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Murray on The Spider
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: John D. MacDonald & Mickey Spillane
A (Black Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis goes West(ern)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Bill Crider on The Brass Cupcake

A (Black) Gat in the Hand – 2018 Series (31)
With a (Black) Gat: George Harmon Coxe
With a (Black) Gat: Raoul Whitfield
With a (Black) Gat: Some Hard Boiled Anthologies
With a (Black) Gat: Frederick Nebel’s Donahue
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Walsh
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – January, 1935
A (Black) Gat in the hand: Norbert Davis’ Ben Shaley
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: D.L. Champion’s Rex Sackler
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dime Detective – August, 1939
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #1
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – October, 1933
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask – Spring, 2017
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Frank Schildiner’s ‘Max Allen Collins & The Hard Boiled Hero’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Campbell Gault
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: More Cool & Lam From Hard Case Crime
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: MORE Cool & Lam!!!!
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Parker’s ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part Two)
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Maynard’s ‘The Yellow Peril’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Andrew P Salmon’s ‘Frederick C. Davis’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Rory Gallagher’s ‘Continental Op’
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #3
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #4
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #5
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw on Writing
A (Black) Gat in Hand: Back Deck Pulp #6
A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Black Mask Dinner


Bob_Houston_HatCroppedBob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ was a regular Monday morning hardboiled pulp column from May through December, 2018 and again from August through December, 2019. It returned in June, 2020.

His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate  from March, 2014 through March, 2017 (still making an occasional return appearance!).

He organized ‘Hither Came Conan,’ as well as Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series.

He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes. That’s also the name of his podcast.

He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV,  V, VI and XXI.


3 Comments »

  1. I have to say I never much cared for Raft. If he had made those other films they wouldn’t have been as good.

    Comment by R.K. Robinson - September 28, 2020 11:00 am

  2. Raft has grown on me in some of his roles. He’s not a great actor, but some of his movies work for him. I think this, and Nocturne are two of them. I like Background To Anger, but I think somebody else would have been better in it.

    Comment by Bob Byrne - September 28, 2020 5:32 pm

  3. Raft was such a stiff. The only thing he did that I look on fondly was his Spats Colombo, getting cut in two by Nehemiah Persoff’s Tommy gun in Some Like It Hot.

    Comment by Thomas Parker - September 28, 2020 6:11 pm


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