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Film / Johnny Dangerously

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Organized crime has never been this disorganized!

"Remember kid, crime doesn't pay. ...Well, it paid a little."
Mr. Kelly, a.k.a. "Johnny Dangerously"

Johnny Dangerously is a comedic film produced by 20th Century Fox in 1984, and is primarily an Affectionate Parody of gangster movies set in Prohibition-Era New York City. Michael Keaton stars as the title character, a youth who joins an organized crime gang to raise money to pay for medical procedures for his ailing mother. Marilu Henner appears as Lil Sheridan, Johnny's love interest, while Joe Piscopo plays villain Danny Vermin. Also in the cast are Maureen Stapleton, Peter Boyle, Griffin Dunne, Danny Devito, and Dom DeLuise.

The movie begins its light-hearted path with an Animated Credits Opening featuring images of Manhattan locales set to "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "This Is the Life". We are introduced to the owner of "Kelly's Pet Shop", Mr. Kelly, who  after apprehending a would-be thief and being treated to a tough-guy attitude begins to tell the story of his own past... as the criminal known as "Johnny Dangerously."

Holds the honor of being one of the first movies to be rated PG-13.

This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Dundee and most of the people who work under him are very personable and likable guys, with the sole exception being Danny Vermin and his stooge.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of 1930's gangster flicks.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Burr remarks that Johnny is more "sensitive" than the average gangster and that the two of them should be alone together some time.
  • Amoral Attorney: Burr, the D.A. who is under Johnny's payroll.
  • ...And 99: Johnny gets involved with the mob so that he can afford a medical procedure for his mother costing $49.95. The figure was likely chosen for how ridiculous it would sound to an audience in the eighties, but that kind of money genuinely would be a major imposition on a lower class family at the turn of the 20th Century - the Kellys were likely making less than $300 a year, so fifty bucks is probably more money than they had at any one time in their lives.
  • Baby Carriage: One of the would-be assassins of Johnny is hiding in a baby carriage.
  • Bad Girl Song: "(I Wanna Live) Dangerously", the song Lil performs in her nightclub act.
  • Bag of Holding: Ma Kelly's purse seems to have anything she needs.
  • Benevolent Boss: Dundee, as head of the gang that Johnny joins.
  • The Bet: Tommy, not wanting to arrest his older brother, challenges Johnny to a fight, where the loser has to quit their respective jobs of being a district attorney and a gangster, respectively.
  • Big Applesauce: Johnny has to remind Lil that they're in New York after she mentions coming to Chicago to make her way in the world.
  • Big Brother Instinct: When Tommy learns the truth about Johnny's activities as a crime leader, he challenges him to a fist fight despite knowing that his brother can beat him handily. Johnny, however, ultimately can't bring himself to hit his brother and ends up losing.
  • Blinding Camera Flash: Johnny gets photographed repeatedly and then promptly walks into the wall he can't see anymore.
  • Bomb Whistle: There is a scene actually involving a bomb dropped from a plane on the casino of his enemy, Roman Moronie. Followed by an explosion.
  • Book Safe: Ammo for Johnny's jail-breaking machine gun.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • Johnny speaks directly to the children in the audience about the importance of not smoking.
    • The wavering "flashback" effect when Johnny starts talking about his past life, which both characters on screen notice.
    • Joe Piscopo pulls this in the trailer, where he knocks out the projectionist who recognises him, then addresses himself to the audience as Danny Vermin.
  • Bull Seeing Red: the D.A.'s death: in a commercial.
  • Cain and Abel: the "brother versus brother" story line.
  • Canis Latinicus: "Post-meridian, ante-meridian, Uncle Meridian, and all the little Meridians."
  • The Chanteuse: Lil has a career as a singer.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • "Oh, Johnny, I love shelf paper."
    • Also, Dundee's cigarette case with the bullet dent (see Pocket Protector below).
  • Clark Kenting: Everybody knows that Johnny Kelly is Johnny Dangerously except his mother and brother.
  • Cement Shoes: Talked about briefly, by Vermin.
    Danny Vermin: You know, if Jocko was in charge, we'd be making cement loafers for him by now.
  • *Click* Hello: In the prison escape (unusual in that the warden knew he was there, he just didn't know about the gun).
    Warden: Do you have any last words, Johnny? [Johnny points tommy gun with audible click, Warden puts hands up] Well said!
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Mary-Margaret Catherine Dineen, the cleaning lady, can cuss a mean blue streak of these whenever someone walks on the freshly mopped floor.
    Mary-Margaret: Dirty Jew! Shanty nigger! White-trash bastard! GO AHEAD, WALK ALL OVER THE BUGGER!!
  • Conspicuous Consumption: The theme song "This Is The Life" holds numerous examples, such as bathing in bottled water, having steak for dinner seven times a day, and buying monogrammed tissue paper in bulk.
  • Covers Always Lie: The Pope is featured on the theatrical release poster, despite only appearing in one scene in the movie.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Roman Moronie threatening Mr. Dundee.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Spoofed at the end. Johnny asserts that this trope isn't true by telling the audience "Crime doesn't pay." But once he sees his limo, his elegantly-dressed dames, and other ill-gotten gains of gangsterdom, he admits that, actually, yes, it does feel good to be a gangster, and adds "Well, it pays a little."
  • Deadly Prank: Young Danny Vermin , while selling newspapers on a street corner, produces a pair of large scissors from his paper bag to cut the leash from between a seeing-eye dog and a blind man, who is hit by a car off camera, then returns to work.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: the beginning of the flashback is B/W documentary footage with narration. When the movie's new action begins the film remains in B/W, then transitions into color to indicate the film will be remaining in the past for some time.
  • Don't Tell Mama: Parodied, since to everyone but Johnny's mother it's painfully clear that he's a mob boss.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Vermin talks about his discovery that Johnny Dangerously and the DA are brothers while walking past the janitor's closet where said DA is consummating his marriage.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
  • Fanservice: When Tommy visits Johnny's apartment.
    Tommy: I'm sorry Johnny, I just don't have the tits for it ... I mean... heart.
  • Fireworks of Love: After Johnny and Lil Sheridan go for a long walk and kiss after falling for each other, fireworks go off. In fact, the rest of the mob notices the fireworks and realize that Johnny has just scored.
  • Flashback Effects: The entire movie takes place during a flashback, illustrating the story Mr. Kelly is telling the would-be thief he caught trying to steal a puppy from his pet store.
    Thief: What's goin' on?!
    Mr. Kelly: Aw, don't worry about that, it'll clear up. It always does this when I talk about the past.
  • Fluffy Fashion Feathers: Lil's fancy nightgown has white feathers over the shoulders.
  • Fun with Subtitles: As the movie opens, subtitles Fade In onto the screen to state the year; then a car drives over them, as they are actually plaster props standing in the street.
  • Game Show: "Play Ball".
  • Gossip Evolution: Word goes around — but doesn't necessarily stay the same.
    Prisoner: Johnny and The Mothers are playing "Stompin' at the Savoy" in Vermont tonight.
    Johnny: [gasp] ...Vermin's gonna kill my brother at the Savoy Theater tonight!
    Prisoner: I didn't say that.
    Johnny: No, but I know this grapevine.
  • Grammar Nazi
    Lil: Did you know your last name is an adverb?
  • Hand Cannon: Danny Vermin's .88 Magnum. "It shoots through schools."
  • Healthcare Motivation: This is what originally drives Johnny Kelly to becoming a gangster.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Johnny ends up with redhead Lily.
  • IKEA Weaponry: On the way to the electric chair, as part of the Prison Break, below
  • Improbable Weapon User: Young Johnny disarms one of Moronie's men with a thrown newspaper and inflicts a Groin Attack on another thug with another.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: The desk sergeant working dispatch, after reporting on the various changes of the description of Johnny's getaway car after his Prison Break, concluding with the car covered in "duckies and bunnies".
    "Calling all cars, calling all cars! Come to Dooley's bar and grill; I'm buying!"
    • Given that the movie takes place during Prohibition, the cops must really need a drink to admit to it over the dispatch radio.
  • Ineffectual Death Threats: Moronie to Dundee during an almost-execution.
  • Instant Messenger Pigeon: Polly
  • Internal Reveal: "Johnny Dangerously is Tommy Kelly's brother." Of course, we all know that (as does all of Johnny's old neighborhood), but the rest of the Dundee gang don't.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: Johnny notes that his gang has to diversify, or else the Japanese gangs will run them out of business. Yes, this movie was made in The '80s.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Dundee's (later Dangerously's) gang.
    "Sure, we did illegal things, but we never bothered the general public. And every Christmas, Jocko returned a little cash back to the community."
  • Line-of-Sight Name: After Dundee credits how Johnny "lives dangerously," Johnny took "Dangerously" as a last name to hide his true identity.
    "I should've never picked that name. A name like that, you gotta live up to."
  • Loved by All: Johnny is pretty much loved by everyone, even the Pope. The warden greeted Johnny warmly, even though Johnny is on death row. There's a shirt vendor in the neighborhood who sells "I love Johnny" shirts. The only person who doesn't like him is Vermin, possibly due to jealously.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Johnny's prison-striped three-piece suit.
  • MacGuffin: "Whoever has my cigarette case bumped-off the Commissioner."
  • Mad Libs Catch Phrase: Vermin's Catchphrase is "You shouldn't [do something bad to] me. My [family member] [did that to] me once." (long pause with index finger extended for emphasis) "Once." Some examples include:
    Danny Vermin: You shouldn't grab me, Johnny. My mother grabbed me once. Once.
    Danny Vermin: You shouldn't hang me on a hook. My father hung me on a hook once. Once.
    Danny Vermin: [while in clear pain] You shouldn't kick me in the balls. My sister kicked me in the balls once...
    Danny Vermin: [while being dragged away] You shouldn't shoot me Johnny. My grandmother shot me once...
  • Malaproper: Roman Moronie. He'd have given the movie a hard R rating for language if the miserable corksoaker could pronounce a word of it correctly, that fargin' icehole.
  • Meaningful Name
    • Danny Vermin truly is a pest.
    • Then there's extraordinary gangster "Johnny Dangerously," although he did pick it himself.
  • Metallicar Syndrome: Played with when Johnny and Lil are making their escape in a black... er, white... er, duckies-and-bunnies car that was previously covered in layers of shelf paper specifically so they could invoke the trope.
  • Mr. Exposition: The Pope, and the neighborhood, explain how Johnny's family doesn't know he's a gangster.
  • Near-Death Experience: Nearly having his "dork" blown off by a bomb rigged in his toilet is what convinces Dundee that it's time to retire from being a gangster.
  • Necessarily Evil: Johnny gets into organized crime in order to pay for various medical expenses for his ailing mother.
  • Neighbourhood-Friendly Gangsters
  • Non-Fatal Explosions: Happens to both Moronie and Dundee at the hands of the other.
  • Oblivious Younger Sibling: Both Johnny's brother and mother. It's mistakenly thought to be a Plot Hole that Vermin failed to realize Johnny's real identity from when they were kids (since he recognized him right away), but the actual reveal is that Vermin figures out that the D.A. is Johnny's younger brother (he never learned back then that "Kelly" was Johnny's real surname).
  • The Pardon: Johnny gets one from the Governor after saving him and the D.A., Tommy Kelly, from Vermin's attempted assassination.
  • Pie-Eyed: The animated segment does this, as it's done in a 30's art style.
  • Pocket Protector: Dundee's cigarette case once saved him from an assassination attempt, and it has the bullet dent to prove it. It ends up saving Tommy's life in the end.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: Polly.
  • Pretty in Mink: Lil wears a white fox wrap at the end, as part of spoofing the moral.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Danny Vermin aims at the parrot and doesn't hit him, Polly snarks back at him with: "You missed, fuck-face!"
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Johnny attempts to turn himself in to the Crime Commissioner in an effort to go legit, but ends up getting framed by Vermin for killing the Commissioner and sent to prison.
  • The Roaring '20s: When the movie is set.
  • Robot Me: Moronie's murdering gift sent to Dundee's office, with postage due.
  • Running Gag:
    • The bits with the newspaper vendor, played by Ray Walston, getting beaned by a stack of newspapers, which cures his blindness, then makes him deaf, then gives him amnesia.
    • Whenever somebody does something bad to Danny Vermin, he will say something such as "You shouldn't have done that... My [relative] did that to me once, once!"
  • Scare 'Em Straight: E.S.S. video
  • Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: Danny Vermin (minus the schoolyard). Although his .88 Magnum shoots through them.
  • Shout-Out: "These are a few of my favorite things."
  • Sitting Sexy on a Piano: Lil Sheridan, while singing in a nightclub.
  • Something Else Also Rises: "Sounds like Johnny's gettin' laid."
  • Spinning Paper:
    • The activities of the police and D.A.'s office are indicated with front-page newspaper headlines.
    • The paper simply slides up to view when revealing the outcome of Moronie's trial.
  • Spoof Aesop:
    • "Crime doesn't pay." Cue his fancy suit, chauffeured car, and elegantly dressed wife. "Well, it paid a little."
    • When Johnny has to talk Tommy into staying in law school, because Tommy wants to get married right away... to be able to have sex with his girlfriend. Johnny tells him that sex with beautiful dames is a "living hell," and he's forced to show his young brother an Army-style (pseudo-)VD film to scare him straight.
  • Tap on the Head: "Hey, how 'bout me gettin' knocked out?"
  • Tempting Fate: Moronie gets to thinking about expanding his night club because he's getting to where he's got to turn people away at the door. "Knock down that wall, knock down that wall, and knock down THAT fargin' wall!" (Cue Johnny and Dundee's crew dropping a bomb on said nightclub to oblige Moronie.)
  • Thematic Theme Tune: "Weird Al" Yankovic's "This is the Life" over the opening credits explains how it feels to be filthy rich. The song "Dangerously" sung by Lil later in the movie could be this, but it is less about Johnny Dangerously than it is about Lil's lust for him.
  • Throwing the Fight: Johnny, at his mother's imagined insistence, takes a dive during the fight with Tommy, and promises to go legit.
  • Train Problem: During Roman Moronie's trial.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: Ma Kelly doesn't want either of her kids turning out like their father, "Killer" Kelly.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Tommy's car is sabotaged after he refuses to "play ball" with the crooked DA.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: When Lil arrives with Johnny's bail money.
  • Walk and Talk: Parodied and lampshaded when Johnny and Lil go on a walk... and talk. After a very long time, they stop, look around and realize they must have left the city hours ago and are now out in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere.
    Johnny: "Where the hell are we?"
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Vermin's sidekick, Dutch, is never seen again after Vermin is wounded trying to kill Tommy, and is not shown being arrested with him. It's not made explicitly clear whether Dutch ran away or whether Johnny's bullet went through Vermin and killed Dutch, who was standing close behind him during the scene.
  • Younger Than They Look: In the part of the story where Johnny was just a paperboy who hadn't gotten entangled with the mob yet, his mother looks old, grey and feeble, and mentions that she hasn't reached her thirtieth birthday yet.
  • You Are in Command Now: Dundee promotes Dangerously to leader of the gang after a bomb rigged in his toilet explodes.