Johnny (John Slater) is a lorry driver taking a cargo through the night along darkened country roads when a figure steps out in front of his cab, causing him to stop. It is a young woman, and she asks if she can have a lift which he tells her is against the rules, but once he learns her car has broken down in a nearby lane he relents and invites her to jump in. He tries to start conversation, but she is cagey and when he points out the roadside café up ahead he says she can telephone for help there, she prefers to sit in the cab while he phones his boss. Once inside, there's someone already in the booth and the jukebox is blaring, so he enjoys a bite to eat and a cup of tea - and when he finally returns to his truck, the woman is long gone.
Where could she be? Johnny finds out sooner or later in this brief but bright British B-movie which stood out against many, many contemporaries by dint of still being pretty amusing, and by that I mean it could still make you laugh. It doesn't seem so from the introduction, yet another fifties effort beginning with a hitchhiker picked up, but a basic thriller plot with a drugs smuggling theme was livened up considerably by its willingness to throw caution to the wind and conjure up a few gags for its cast to play out, with some aplomb too. Its first act relied heavily on coincidence to make sure we had our murder suspect well delineated so the grand finale would not come across as too much of a surprise, after all if the killer was sprung on us during the last five minutes with no basis in what had gone before it went against all sorts of mystery yarn conventions.
With that in mind, at heart Johnny You're Wanted was undeniably conventional, but it was the decoration bringing the thriller aspect into sharper relief that made it worthwhile. At its centre was character actor John Slater, still some way off from his most famous role in the popular police television series Z Cars which he was starring in around the time of his rather premature death, but his was a face you wouldn't forget, not exactly one only a mother could love yet he was no oil painting either, which was a gift to the acting profession when he was so distinctive-looking. Couple that with a gift for both comedy and drama and you would agree he was perfect for this sort of low rent but high entertainment affair, as that strange woman Johnny picked up gets him into all sorts of trouble when she shows up later that evening dead, murdered by the side of the road.
It was made to look like a hit and run, but the cops are not fooled, and our hapless hero is a suspect though he becomes convinced he is a psychic since he predicted his passenger would be in danger if she continued hitching. For a spot of research and in no way intended to crowbar in the villain to the movie, oh no, Johnny attends a theatre where an astrologer and mentalist named Balsamo (Garry Marsh) is staging a show, again offering the chance for a few laughs when those invited up to have their fortunes told are less than accomodating. Here it turns out the dead woman was one of the showgirls who had a part in the psychic's act, so obviously Johnny has to venture backstage and investigate, which somehow lands him as part of a different act, a stooge for famed strongwoman of the day Joan Rhodes who performs her feats of strength, including tearing a phone directory in half which Johnny tries and fails to replicate for the rest of the movie. Also engaging was Alfred Marks as a joke shop owner who gets plenty of bits of business as well as being an unlikely suspect in the inquiries; overall this was a fast-paced, silly but appealing item of vintage ephemera.
[Network's DVD in its British Film series has no extras, but does have a well-preserved print.]