You know, I always thought that Henry Silva was asian. I guess that might get me some flack from some folks. The first movie I remember seeing him in was “The Manchurian Candidate,” in which he plays one of the Korean baddies of the film. He’s actually of Sicilian descent, which fits with the role he plays in today’s film 1963’s “Johnny Cool.” Still, I couldn’t shake the thought that he was asian. I guess first impressions are the strongest.
Silva starts the film as a Sicilian gangster of sorts named Salvatore Giordano. He ends up getting nabbed by the authorities and killed in front of a group of soldiers…or so it seems. His execution actually was performed with blanks, and a double is dressed in his clothes and killed in his place. This has all been orchestrated by Johnny Colini (Marc Lawrence), an American gangster exiled to Rome. Colini tells Giordano to use his name, cleans him up, and sends him out on a mission to seek revenge on those who plotted his downfall.
Johnny arrives in New York and immediately begins introducing himself as Johnny Colini. This spooks some of the local wiseguys, who quickly end up getting slapped around by the new out-of-town visitor. This also catches the attention of wannabe gangster’s moll Dare Guiness (Elizabeth Montgomery), who immediately tries to hook up with Johnny, but is quickly dismissed.
Word soon reaches mob boss Vince Santangelo (Telly Savalas) of someone claiming to be Johnny Colini. Though he doesn’t think too much of it, he sends his men out keep an eye on Johnny. They spy on him at the racetrack, where Dare ends up meeting up with Johnny as well. The two head back to her apartment, but there’s no time for hanky panky…there’s a phone call for Johnny which causes him to leave abruptly. He ends up at a mob gathering where shooting craps is on the menu. Among those present are the guys Johnny roughed up the previous night, and a strange, one-eyed man called “Educated” (Sammy Davis Jr.). Johnny quickly manages to be the big winner…even if it means using a gun to help him out.
Meanwhile, two crooked cops end up at Dare’s place. They tell her that Johnny is running dope. When they report back to their mob boss, they are told to “leave her something to remember you by.” They attack her, the film even hints that they rape her. When Johnny comes back and finds out what happened, he quickly heads out and kills the two cops.
Now, Johnny and Dare head out across the country to carry out several revenge killings. Among the victims are Jim Backus, John McGiver, and Mort Sahl. All is going well, but Dare begins to have second thoughts about Johnny after she assists with the getaway vehicle when Johnny executes Lennart Crandall (Brad Dexter) by tossing a suitcase full of explosives into his swimming pool. Now, it’s just a question of who will be Johnny’s undoing…Santangelo and his men, or Dare.
“Johnny Cool” has a fun early 60’s gangster style…with a bit of the rat pack thrown in to make things interesting. Besides Silva, who I always figured sort of a fringe member, and Sammy Davis Jr, Joey Bishop has a small part as a used car salesman. The premise of the film is interesting, but unfortunately, Silva didn’t quite sell it for me. The character just has no depth. Johnny Cool stays way too cool, even in scenes where some display of emotion is not just warranted but demanded.
The supporting cast manages to be much more interesting. Sammy Davis Jr’s “Educated” may be the most interesting character in the film. Sadly, he only shows up in one sequence. I really wanted to see him play a more central role. Telly Savalas is great as Santangelo. I mean, who better to play a mob boss, right? Most surprising is Elizabeth Montgomery, everybody’s favorite suburban witch from the classic show “Bewitched.” She wouldn’t start playing that iconic role until the following year, but it’s strange to see someone so known for playing a squeaky clean housewife role appearing as someone desperate to be a bad girl. I wouldn’t say Montgomery vamps it up, but she does pull off being quite sexy.
This film ends up having enough style to make it interesting, but it is somewhat lacking. I guess, ultimately, “Johnny Cool” is just a bit too cool for his own good.