Johnny Handsome (1989) from Tuna

Johnny Handsome (1989) is a traditional film noir starring Mickey Rourke in the title role. He was born with a seriously deformed skull of a prostitute/addict mother, and grew up to become a petty thief to survive. An old friend comes to him, and asks him to arrange a robbery, so he can get out of debt, and the two of them team with three others, who double-cross them, and kill his best friend. Rourke is caught, and the bad guys try to get him whacked in prison. While he is in the hospital recovering from his stab wounds, a doctor offers him a chance at reconstructive surgery, speech therapy, and a new identity as part of an inmate rehab program.

The surgery goes well, and he is eventually allowed out on a work furlough program in a shipyard, where he meets Elizabeth McGovern, who works there in accounting. After he is granted parole, he must decide whether to live a normal life with his new looks and new girl, or to return to crime and revenge the death of his friend. You already know this is a noir, so you know which he chooses. 
While Roger Ebert gives it an enthusiastic 3 1/2 stars, calling it a perfect noir, he admits that it is probably not a perfect match to current filmgoer's tastes. I have mixed feelings about the genre in general. While dwelling on the dark side is a plus, they are usually darkly lit, which I am not fond of. The cinematography does capture the atmosphere in the New Orleans setting perfectly, however, and Ry Cooder's score also sets the mood. 


Elizabeth McGovern shows her breasts in a very dark sex scene. Although breasts and face are not visible in the same frame, it is a continuous pan from breasts to face, so it is not a double.

Scoop's notes:

I don't know if I have ever seen such a severe disconnection between the communication from the critics and the reaction of the public. Rotten Tomatoes has four graded reviews of this film, and the least favorable critic awarded four stars our of five! Yet IMDb voters find it to be unmemorable, more than five hundred of them having voted, awarding an average score of only 5.5/10. So here you have a film which the critics evaluate as a three and a half star near-masterpiece, while the people stayed away from theaters when it was playing, and are still yawning and calling it two stars.

Writer/director Walter Hill had a substantial measure of success in the late 70's and early 80's with The Warriors, Southern Comfort, The Long Riders, and 48 Hours. In that same general era, he also contributed to the screenplay for Alien. Times have been much leaner since then. His six directed films with the highest IMDb ratings were all done before 1983.  Johnny Handsome is probably his best effort of the last 20 years, and it was released 13 years ago.

Hill's recent Supernova was a bomb of nuclear force, to the point where he lost control of the film, and his name was excised from the credits and replaced by the official director pseudonym (which is now Thomas Lee rather than Alan Smithee). 

The Critics Vote

  • Roger Ebert 3.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: domestic gross was an anemic $7 million
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, the proper score for this one is C+, excellent genre effort with little crossover appeal.

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