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JOHNNY COOL (1963).

This Mob pic from executive producer Peter Lawford got an unexpected publicity boost, since it opened the same week Joe Valachi was making headlines for testifying at Senate investigations. What better time to release a flick about a Sicilian hitman (Henry Silva)? Even if it never rises about competent B-level fare, the supporting cast is bursting with future TV icons and low-grade Rat Packsters. It certainly starts out cool enough, with Sammy Davis Jr. warbling the swinging Sammy Cahn theme song, and a 15 minute prologue set in the Old Country, where we watch young Giordano (a.k.a. Johnny Cool) grow up to be a village bigshot. But when things get too hot, he heads to America. Enter Elizabeth Montgomery, as a swanky NYC chanteuse named Dare Guiness, who meets Johnny in a cocktail lounge and immediately falls for the brooding lunk. The only glitch in their romance? Cool is on a cross-country vendetta against an assortment of Mob rivals. So with naive Elizabeth along for the joyride, he hops from New York, to Las Vegas, to Los Angeles, and back. Along the way they encounter (or murder) Telly Savalas as a NYC mob boss, Mort Sahl as a Vegas henchman, Joey Bishop as a used car dealer, plus Jim Backus, Richard Anderson (THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN's Oscar Goldman) and Elisha Cook Jr. Plus, in a terrific scene, Silva crashes a crap game and meets eye-patched Sammy Davis Jr. as "Educated," a lucky roller (especially when he's got a gun pointed at his head). While the script makes a limp attempt to expose the Mob's hold on American business and politics, it's mostly just an excuse for some cheap thrills (e.g., when Montgomery is raped, Silva weeks revenge) and a few unique assassination techniques -- like riding window cleaning scaffolding to the target's highrise window, and blasting away with a machine gun. William Asher brings the same lack of directorial finesse to this project as he did to his half-dozen Frankie & Annette Beach Party pics, and most of the acting is disposable too. Silva was never known for his relaxed, likable demeanor, and though he carved out a successful career playing sadistic supporting villains, when given an entire movie to carry, he's a stiff. And while the future BEWITCHED-starlet (not to mention, Mrs. Asher) adds some welcome window-dressing, she's far from the obsessed, morally-torn siren the script calls for. Complete with a surprisingly downbeat ending, this amoral little romp may not break any new ground in the gangland genre, but has enough moments to keep it memorable.

© 1996 by Steven Puchalski.