**** out of 5
"There's something going on I don't know about, and what I don't know, I don't like."
Screenwriter Robert Rossen became director Robert Rossen with this film. (actually, he did both jobs here) He already had a couple of noir or semi-noir hits under his belt as a writer by this point, including Out of the Fog and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and followed this one up with the unforgettable noir great, Body and Soul.
What he produced here is a film with definite noir atmosphere and all the essential elements of noir, though possibly not at tightly plotted as some of the more noteable noirs. I would venture to guess that as a first-time director, he may still have been more in writer mode, where one thinks less in cinematic terms of what works, and more with the pacing of how things work on the page. This is not to say that as a director, his work is undisciplined here, but merely that he got much better as he progressed (and very rapidly so), getting to a point where he would develop a keen sense of how to pace scenes, and when to trim and tighten the storytelling in a way that keeps things moving and maintains the intensity of audience involvement that is key to great filmmaking. As a first-time director's film, though, this is pretty terrific entertainment regardless.
Dick Powell is a clear anti-hero type in the film as a character who is clearly involved in shady activity, but is still likeable enough that the audience never stops rooting for him to succeed.
Lee J. Cobb is interesting as the homicide detective who dogs Powell's heels trying to track down the murderer of Nina Foch's innocent hat-check girl character. We also have noir staple Evelyn Keyes entering late in the picture as Foch's sister, who also want to find the killer, but instead finds a love interest in Powell. Ellen Drew is the femme fatale, and mighty deadly one, at that; She is married to Thomas Gomez' mob boss character, solely for the money, and finds herself disatisfied and wanting Powell as well, and, in an ice-cold climactic scene, demonstrates that, as Shakespeare noted, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
Interesting side note is to correlate the name Johnny O'Clock with the film's obsession with time-pieces, from the opening shot of the street-side timepiece outside Powell's hotel, to the unusual alarm clock Powell is woken to every morning with a bit of help from his personal bodyguard, the ex-con Charlie(John Kellogg), to the duplicate watches given as gifts to 2 different characters by the same person, and how those watches play into the plot and how they figure into the dramatic climax.