For MGM, the main selling point of their film Johnny Eager was its pairing of stars Robert Taylor and Lana Turner. Director Mervyn LeRoy supposedly came up with the marketing nickname “T’NT” for the duo, in reference to their last names and how, as the poster claims, “They’re Dynamite in Johnny Eager.” However, Taylor and Turner aren’t dynamite—both are just passable in this gangster picture, which doesn’t deserve any more praise than they do. Mervyn LeRoy, who directed the foundational gangster picture Little Caesar a decade prior, does a decent job with decent material. But ultimately, as this is an MGM picture, it’s less film noir and more a romantic melodrama in gangster clothing.
Yet there is one person who singlehandedly makes Johnny Eager worth seeing: Van Heflin, cast as Eager’s right-hand man, Jeff Hartnett. He doesn’t have many scenes, but as a character who is essentially Eager’s alcoholic conscience, Heflin completely steals the movie from Taylor and Turner. He injects this shell of a character with an authentically tragic sense of brokenness, tumbling through scenes as if he’s constantly about to crack. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role, and it’s well deserved.
Despite that, Heflin is only in so much of Johnny Eager. As much as you’d rather follow him around for an hour and a half, the bulk of the film is spent on a familiar doomed romance between the two mediocre but top-billed stars.
Where to Watch
Buy it on DVD