Johnny Handsome

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Johnny Handsome
Johnny handsome.jpg
original film poster
Directed by Walter Hill
Produced by Charles Roven
Screenplay by Ken Friedman
Based on The Three Worlds of Johnny Handsome
by John Godey
Starring Mickey Rourke
Ellen Barkin
Elizabeth McGovern
Forest Whitaker
Scott Wilson
Lance Henriksen
Morgan Freeman
Music by Ry Cooder
Cinematography Matthew F. Leonetti
Edited by Donn Aron
Carmel Davies
Freeman A. Davies
Carolco Pictures
The Guber-Peters Company
Distributed by Tri-Star Pictures
Release dates
September 29, 1989
Running time
94 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million
Box office $7,237,794
334,941 admissions (France)[1]

Johnny Handsome is an 1989 American crime-drama film directed by Walter Hill and starring Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin and Morgan Freeman. The film was written by Ken Friedman, and adapted from the novel The Three Worlds of Johnny Handsome by John Godey. The music for the film was written, produced and performed by Ry Cooder, with four songs by Jim Keltner.[2]


John Sedley is a man with a disfigured face, mocked by others as "Johnny Handsome." He and a friend are double-crossed by two accomplices in a crime, Sunny Boyd and her partner Rafe, and a judge sends Johnny to jail, where he vows to get even once he gets out.

A surgeon named Fisher is looking for a guinea pig so he can attempt an experimental procedure in cosmetic surgery. Johnny, figuring he has nothing to lose, is given a new, normal-looking face (making him unrecognizable to the people who knew him) before he is released back into society.

Lt. Drones, a dour New Orleans law enforcement officer, is not fooled by Johnny's new look or new life, even when Johnny lands an honest job and begins seeing Donna McCarty, a respectable woman who knows little of his past. The lieutenant tells Johnny right to his changed face that, on the inside, Johnny is still a hardened criminal and always will be.

The cop is correct. Johnny cannot forget or forgive his sworn vengeance against Sunny and Rafe, joining them for another job, which ends violently for all.



Richard Gere was originally announced to star with Harold Becker to direct.[3] Then Walter Hill signed on as director with Al Pacino to play the lead.[4] Then Mickey Rourke was cast instead.[5]

Walter Hill later claimed he turned down the movie four times:

No studio wanted to make it, and I didn't think any actor would be willing to play it. I wasn't sure the audience would buy the gimmick of the plastic surgery. It's an old-fashioned melodramatic device. Then about a year ago, I decided to do it. First, I figured that Hollywood is based on melodrama anyway and, second, I thought up a way to present the story in a way that resisted histrionics. More importantly, I found an actor who could play Johnny and not make it risible. Someone who understood the pitfalls of the thing. The main thing is that motion pictures have conditioned us to expect psychological realism. This is a drama in a different category. It's about moral choices... I knew I was on very thin ice. If you let any histrionics in, it will fall apart. You have to trust the drama of the whole rather than an individual scene. And that's antithetical to most actors. They want to know, 'Where's my big moment? When do I get to cry and scream?' Mickey understood that.[6]

Hill said the film was reminiscent of 1940s film noir:

You have the doomed character, and audiences back then were more comfortable with it. You can imagine John Garfield having a lot of fun with something like this... But this one has a hard road commercially,"and I'd like to see it have a chance to find an audience that will be interested. Some people like the movie and others are really offended by it. That's fine with me. I like movies that stir things up a little.[6]

Shooting took place in New Orleans, where Hill had previously made Hard Times.[6]

Box office[edit]

The film was not a box office success.[7]

Home video release[edit]

After the film's theatrical run, the film was released on videocassette and laserdisc in 1990 by International Video Entertainment. In 2002, the film was finally released on DVD, but without any bonus material and was shown in only a full frame presentation.

In 2010 the film was released on Blu-ray through Lions Gate Entertainment in its original widescreen presentation.


  1. ^ Box office figures for Walter Hill films in France at Box Office Story
  2. ^ Johnny Handsome:Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Warner Bros. Records Inc. CD liner notes, 1989
  3. ^ OUTTAKES: THE SEQUEL MONOPOLIZING ELVIS Matthew CostelloPat BroeskeDavid FoxJohn WilsonCraig Modderno. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 08 Mar 1987: L82.
  4. ^ CALENDAR: OUTTAKES Packaging Problems Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 21 Feb 1988: K22.
  5. ^ Cinefile Klady, Leonard. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 14 Aug 1988: K32.
  6. ^ a b c "'Johnny' Was Not Attractive Walter Hill Agreed To Direct The Difficult Film Noir "Johnny Handsome" - But Only After Refusing The Job Four Times." By Desmond Ryan Philadelphia Inquirer 1 Oct 1989 accessed 6 Feb 2015
  7. ^ "Black Rain, 'Sea of Love' Tops at Box Office : WEEKEND BOX OFFICE". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 

External links[edit]