1935. A pet shop owner catches a young boy shoplifting a puppy. To discourage the kid from a life of crime, the owner tells a story.
1910. Young Johnny Kelly is a poor but honest newsboy in New York City. Johnny’s mom, Ma Kelly, needs an operation they cannot afford. Since the execution of Johnny’s father, Killer Kelly, Ma Kelly has supported Johnny and his younger brother, Tommy, who is fascinated by the law.
Johnny’s fight with a local kid (Danny Vermin) attracted the notice of local crime boss Jocko Dundee, who offers Johnny a job. Seeing no honest way to earn the money for his mother’s operation, Johnny agrees to work for Dundee, even though it probably means “breaking his mother’s heart.” He helps rob the nightclub belonging to Dundee’s rival, Roman Moronie. When asked his name, Johnny coins “Johnny Dangerously”, but Moronie, a malapropist of swearwords, claims he “never forgets a fargin’ face.”
Years pass. With Ma’s continuing medical problems, Johnny goes to work for Dundee full-time. The whole neighborhood (including the Pope) knows that Kelly is really Johnny Dangerously, except for Ma and Tommy, who think he is a nightclub owner. Similarly, the gang knows nothing of Johnny’s mother and brother.
Johnny comes to Dundee’s headquarters to find he has taken on two new gang members: Danny Vermin and his sidekick Dutch. Danny has lived up to his potential and become a total scumbag, with a taste for using opera audiences as shooting galleries with his .88 Magnum pistol (according to Dutch, “They made it for him special.” Danny then adds, “It shoots through schools!”).
As the two gangs continue to war, Johnny falls for Lil Sheridan, a young showgirl new to the big city. (“Do you know your last name is an adverb?” she asks.) Eventually, Johnny becomes the boss of the Dundee gang and negotiates a truce with Moronie.
A running gag has Ray Walston playing the owner of a newsstand who is repeatedly knocked out by a pile of newspapers flung from a delivery truck. He temporarily loses one of his primary senses whenever he comes to. At various points throughout the movie, his character alternates between blindness, deafness, and amnesia.
Eventually, Tommy graduates from law school (funded by Johnny’s illicit earnings), and he goes to work for the District Attorney’s office, under D.A. Burr, who is on Johnny’s payroll. D.A. Burr tries to sidetrack Tommy, who has become a major public figure after hearings looking into Moronie’s activities. (The rival crime boss is deported to Sweden, though he protests that he’s “not from there.”) Meanwhile, Burr and Vermin conspire to kill Tommy. Tommy is badly injured but survives. Johnny has Burr killed, but this leaves Tommy as the new D.A.
Vermin discovers that Dangerously is the D.A.’s brother—and Tommy overhears Vermin chortling about it. Tommy confronts Johnny, who agrees to turn over the evidence against himself to the Crime Commissioner—whom Vermin killed, framing Johnny. Not only that, Vermin steals Johnny’s prized cigarette/gum case!
Johnny Dangerously is a 1984 American parody of 1930s’ crime / gangster movies. It was directed by Amy Heckerling; its four screenwriters included Bernie Kukoff and Jeff Harris.
The film stars Michael Keaton as an honest, goodhearted man who is forced to turn to a life of crime to finance his mother’s skyrocketing medical bills and to put his younger brother through law school. It also features Joe Piscopo, Marilu Henner, Maureen Stapleton, Peter Boyle, Griffin Dunne, Dom DeLuise, Danny DeVito, Dick Butkus and Alan Hale, Jr..
Johnny Dangerously (1984)
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Starring: Michael Keaton, Joe Piscopo, Marilu Henner, Maureen Stapleton, Peter Boyle, Griffin Dunne, Glynnis O’Connor, Danny DeVito
Screenplay by: Harry Colomby, Jeff Harris
Production Design by: Joseph R. Jennings
Cinematography by: David M. Walsh
Film Editing by: Pembroke J. Herring
Costume Design by: Patricia Norris
Set Decoration by: Rick Simpson
Music by: John Morris
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: December 21, 1984