Johnny Apollo, Wall Street broker Robert Cain, Sr., is jailed for embezzling. His college graduate son Bob then turns to crime to raise money for his father’s release. As assistant to mobster Mickey Dwyer, then falls for Dwyer’s girl Lucky. He winds up in the same prison as his father.
Johnny Apollo, While not a classic for the ages, this pre-noir gangster adventure is an excellent example of the studio product churned out in a short time to top a two-film bill at your local theatre in the 1940’s, and one of the things that makes it great fun for committed film fans is the use of familiar faces to back up Tyrone Power, playing a rich kid turned bad boy, and Dorothy Lamour, who surprises us by offering a good deal more in the acting department than in the Crosby-Hope Road films, where she functioned primarily as tropical window dressing.
One fascinating performance is offered by the underused Charlie Grapewin, perhaps known to the average film goer as Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz, or as Grandpa in Grapes of Wrath (Grapewins’s most sympathetic and memorable role is as burned-out Jeeter Lester in Jonh Ford’s misunderstood Tobacco Road). In Johhny Apollo, Grapewin’s take on the burned-out lawyer who takes milk with his Scotch and mumbles Shakespeare when to evade confrontation is both funny and endearing and he becomes a pivotal plot element as the plot thickens.
And thicken it does, with lusty Edward Arnold tossed into jail for embezzlement, and his disowned son, Power, taking up with gangster Lloyd Nolan (always reliable, but here essayed with a nasty undercurrent); much of what Nolan’s brutal ganglord does adds a noir element to the film,and a brief scene in a steam bath is right out of Sam Fuller.
Add thug Marc Lawrence from Broadway, Jonathan Hale, reliably a doctor, Fuzzy Knight as a nervous prisoner, and from the Son of Frankenstein, Lionel Atwill, cold and calculating as the lawyer without ethics–until money is dangled his way. The pace never flags, and, except for a short and absurd tagged-on ending that Zanuck probably demanded on behalf of Power fans, the film builds to a dynamic shoot-out in a prison. Not a great classic, but a perfect example of 20th Century Fox machine making a film worth watching.