Wed 12 Aug 2015
JOHNNY ROCCO. Allied Artists, 1958. Richard Eyer, Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray, Russ Conway, Leslie Bradley, James Flavin. Screenplay: James O’Hanlon, based on a story by Richard Carlson. Director: Paul Landres.
The answer to the first question you are probably asking is, No, it’s not the same Johnny Rocco. Far from it. Just about as far opposite as you can get. Richard Eyer, who was 13 when this movie was made, plays the title role, and he looks even younger.
He plays the son of a small-time hoodlum in this film, a young boy who adores his single-parent father, and the affection is mutual, although the kid does get tough love in return. The reason Tony Rocco takes Johnny on his latest job for the mob is so he and his partner in crime can get back across the Mexican border with fewer questions asked.
What they didn’t count on a motorcycle cop trying to pull them over for speeding, and what Tony the father really didn’t count on is that his fellow mobster would pull a stunt that gets the cop killed. With Johnny in the car, as a terrified witness.
If this is a noir film, you might classify it under “inspirational noir.” Johnny’s teacher (Coleen Gray) knows something is wrong — he is withdrawn in class and can speak only by stuttering — and she is ready to help him if he will let her. And while on the run to sort things out, Johnny finds a brief sanctuary in a Catholic church, where the priest finds a place for him in the boys’ choir.
Richard Eyer’s career as a child lasted less than ten more years, but in playing a young wholesome lad in trouble in this movie, he is outstanding. The terror he has after what happened, the fear in his eyes, his worry about his Dad, all 100% believable. Even his stuttering sounds natural. An actor three or four times his age could not have done it better.