James Cagney’s second attempt at indie production was better prepared than his first, but equally stillborn. He’d put out two films during a contract dispute with Warners in the mid-‘30s, but they were done on the cheap, and looked it. This time out, Cagney was coming off YANKEE DOODLE DANDY/’42 and was more careful with his behind-the-camera talent: John Van Druten on script; Theodor Sparkuhl to lens; Leigh Harline for the score. Helmer William K. Howard may have fallen off the A-list while falling off the wagon, but he had considerable style to offer (THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE/’34; TRANSATLANTIC/’31). And still, JOHNNY is doomed from its start. Everyone we meet in this sleepy Currier & Ives town is too cute for words, including the tramps who waste the opening reel laboriously setting the scene. There’s no energy supply (in a Cagney film!) as Jimmy meets-cute with senior stage doyen Grace George as the sharp-eyed bitty who runs the local paper. Oh, she’s a darlin’, too, but local business & political corruption has just about put her out of business till Cagney takes charge and turns everything around, shaming a few leading, but recalcitrant citizens into doing the right thing. Then taking off like Mary Poppins when the wind changes. It’s an unlikely, frustrating pic, not at all bad in places, and happily waking up halfway in when Cagney throws a chair thru a window. Worth watching just to see the great Hattie McDaniel taking over all her scenes and for Marjorie Main making like Mae West. But it certainly is in love with own do-goodness.
DOUBLE-BILL: Cagney memorably tackled a similar period pic @ Warners with Raoul Walsh, Olivia de Havilland & Rita Hayworth in THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE/’41.