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December 12, 2008


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My favorite Johnson film is MIRACLE IN THE RAIN. He plays that affable, agreeable guy practically as a force of nature; his character somehow enhances and enlivens the lives of everyone he meets or even comes into contact with. And, the film's ending... well, as the narrator of this Ben Hecht tale tells us (approximately): "A story of a great city, a soldier, a girl and an old Roman coin. That's the way we heard it. We'd like to believe it's true."

Patrick Murtha

Griff, you beat me to it (and put it better)! I was going to say that for me, the quintessential Van Johnson performance -- the one that makes the most interesting use of his "Van Johnson" qualities -- is indeed MIRACLE IN THE RAIN. Anyone who finds Douglas Sirk's "weepies" interesting (as who wouldn't?) ought to take a good look at this film. There is something about it that has always made it stay with me -- and that something is largely Johnson.

Patrick Murtha

Let me elaborate on my Sirk reference a bit. In MIRACLE IN THE RAIN, director Rudolph Mate is doing straight what Sirk does curled, without the ironizing or aestheticizing (which I love in Sirk). The straight approach is devastatingly effective. Watching Jane Wyman's breakdown in this film (very well played, perhaps her best performance) is excruciating in a way that spills over the sides of the romantic film genre format: it is like being present at a real tragedy in your own life.

This film is ripe for re-discovery (and a Glenn Kenny post).


"I've seen your work. It's good—Van Johnson good!" --Mickey Rooney on The Simpsons, flattering Milhouse's acting abilities.


Great write-up, Glenn. Campaspe also has one of her typically lovely remembrances here:


Tom Carson

By pure coincidence, I watched BATTLEGROUND again just a couple of weeks ago. Man, is he good in it. Van's got to carry about three different kinds of load -- as the comic relief (cf. eggs in helmet), as the squad's would-be Romeo, as the movie's ultimate representative of an ordinary joe who doesn't much want to be where he is but is doing the necessary and has learned how to do it as well as he can. He makes them all look seamless, as if they really were the same guy. For all I know, maybe they were.

Pete Apruzzese

A favorite Van performance of mine is in the drama The End of the Affair, his final scenes are heartbreaking.

Quite a career, RIP.

Katherine Hunter

unforgettable moments : i was 13 or 14 and it was just after WW2 when Van Johnson came to Walter Reed Hospital to visit the wounded / my girlfriends and i cut school to see him / we squealed and giggled / my best glimpse of Van was as he came out to get in his limo / he was surrounded by a protective body of his entourage / he just looked so darn cute and handsome and warm and friendly and he also looked just so baffled by all us teenagers / he was wonderful

btw today is my 75th birthday

Glenn Kenny

A very happy birthday to you, Kathleen. Thanks very much for sharing your memories!


Thank you for this eloquent post, Glenn. Van was truly one of golden Hollywood’s golden boys and it is ever so heartwarming to see you’ve done justice to his memory here.

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