Director: Vernon Sewell
Screenplay: Michael Leighton & Frank Discoll
Starring: John Slater, Alfred Marks, Christine Halward, Garry Marsh, Joan Rhodes
Running Time: 68 mins
BBFC Classification: PG
A middle aged trucker called Johnny (played as a likeable, but rather dumb cockney character by John Slater, best known for being in Z Cars and Passport to Pimlico) picks up an agitated female hitchhiker one night and quickly lives to regret it. She disappears when he stops off at a roadside diner to phone his depot, and later reappears dead in a ditch further down the road.
Obviously the police are very interested when he tells them that he had seen her alive, just minutes previously, hence he becomes a suspect in their murder investigation. He doesn’t help things by coming out with statements like: ‘It was almost as if I knew she’d be dead soon, when I first picked her up’; referring here to her running recklessly out into the road to hitch a lift off of him.
Without wanting to give too much away, our everyman ‘hero’ ends up getting sucked into some dodgy goings on while trying to clear his name, although it quickly becomes apparent that John isn’t the brightest spark in the room and he’ll be lucky to make it to the end of the film in one piece. His adventures take him to a drearily rubbish spiritualist/strong woman double act who soon have him helping out delivering suspicious parcels for them, that the police are also keeping an eye on – it’s just not John’s week!
Although I quite enjoyed watching Johnny, You’re Wanted, since I’m a fan of this kind of ‘wrong man’ scenario, I did find the script, based on an original story by Maurice McLoughlin, to be rather condescending to the poor old working classes. It seems that back in the fifties a working class rouge couldn’t be the ‘real’ hero of the piece, it had to be a middle-classed person of professional standing stepping in to save the day, hence the reason why John Slater’s character is made out to be a bit of a buffoon; a nice enough everyman who only survives because of the helping hand of his middle class superiors, in this case police inspectors.
I appreciate that Johnny is kind of meant to be a bit of an amusing character, but the script is quite patronising towards him, which gets to be a little grating part way through.
On the plus side there are a number of amusing moments scattered throughout and the story, for the most part, holds the interest, although it does lose it in the first scene set in a novelty shop, which is painfully unfunny. There are plenty of quirky characters including one man who loves watching his washing go round and round inside the machine in the laundrette, and it is funny watching all the cops taking tea-drinking to a new level of social activity. Unfortunately the last act feels rather rushed and the very end feels rather tacked on, as if a test audience had demanded a feel-good ending.
Fans of movies from this era, filled with very English eccentrics, steam-trains and pipe smokers will certainly get a buzz out of Johnny, You’re Wanted, but the storyline struggles to hang together satisfactorily so most people might be inclined to give it a miss.
Johnny, You’re Wanted has been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing who are, to their credit, currently releasing lots of these rarer film titles.
If you’re listening Network, other films you might want to track down are Quentin Lawrence’s The Trollenberg Terror (1958) and Cash on Demand (1961); Dilemma (1961) – directed by Peter Maxwell; and I Start Counting (1969) – directed by David Greene.
Sadly, there were no extras on the review disc.