Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Johnny Risko and Joe Friday

I’m a big, big fan of Jack Webb, well-known as the creator of Dragnet and for his portrayal of no-nonsense Sergeant Joe Friday on radio, TV and even in a theatrical movie. I have the whole 1960s TV revival of Dragnet on DVD.

However, you might not know that Webb also produced, directed and starred in several movies in which he played other characters. I happened to pop one of them – Pete Kelly’s Blues – in my DVD player this past Saturday night.

Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955) is about a bandleader and cornet player (played by Webb) in Kansas City during the 1920s. He gets mixed up with a party girl (Janet Leigh) who loves him, and a gangster (Edmond O’Brien) named Fran McCarg. The movie also features Martin Milner (later of Adam-12) in a small role as the band’s hot-headed drummer.

Not surprisingly, it’s hard to watch Webb as the stiff, straight-laced band leader who is good with a gun without thinking of Joe Friday. Time magazine thought so too. In its review, it said the movie might as well have been called Young Cop With a Horn (in a reference to a similar 1950 movie called Young Man With a Horn.)

By now, you’re probably wondering. “But Dan, what the heck does this have to do with Sheffield Lake's Johnny Risko?”

Well, early in the movie, the gangster character McCarg stops in at the nightclub at which Pete Kelly and his band are performing. McCarg summons the bandleader into the nightclub’s office to tell him he’s taking over management of the band, as well as a cut of their earnings.

When Kelly enters the room, McCarg is studying a photo on the wall with his back to the movie audience. While looking at the photo, he murmurs, “Quite a fighter, Johnny Risko.”

Webb replies, “He’ll do.”

When McCarg turns around, you can see the photo of Johnny Risko just over his left shoulder.

Anyway, it’s a nice tribute to Johnny Risko, who had only passed away in 1953, and a reminder of his success as a heavyweight boxer in a career that spanned 1924 - 1940.

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