Bob Cain (Tyrone Power) and his father Robert Cain, Sr. (Edward Arnold) had been very close for a long time, but when Robert is sent to jail for embezzlement, Bob is very deeply hurt. Not so much by the jail sentence, but because he thought his father was above doing such things. Not wanting to be an outcast at school, Bob drops out and starts looking for a job. But being the son of a notorious embezzler makes it impossible for Bob to find work. When Bob finds out that Mickey Dwyer (Lloyd Nolan), a far more dangerous criminal than his father, is granted parole, Bob has a change of heart and wants to get Robert out on parole.
Bob tries talking to Robert’s former attorney, but he isn’t willing to help get Robert out of jail. He then goes to see Dwyer’s attorney Emmet T. Brennan (Charley Grapewin), who tells him he could get Robert paroled, but it would be expensive. To get the money he needs, Bob does a little work for Dwyer. Dwyer likes Bob and decides to have him join his gang. Bob adopts the name Johnny Apollo and becomes Dwyer’s right hand man. Meanwhile, Robert is taking his prison sentence very well and has become a model prisoner. When Robert finds out Bob has been working with Dwyer, he denies even having a son.
Before too long, the law catches up with Bob and Dwyer and money isn’t going to get them out of it. Although she’s Dwyer’s girlfriend, “Lucky” Dubarry (Dorothy Lamour) likes Bob more and convinces Brennan to come up with a plan to send Dwyer up the river while getting Bob off the hook. When Dwyer finds out what’s going on, he kills Brennan and both he and Bob wind up with prison sentences. The two of them have an escape plan in mind before they even get to their cells, but Lucky doesn’t want to see Bob throw his life away by sticking with Dwyer. She goes to see Robert and tells him about their escape plan, hoping Robert can talk some sense into his son.
If you’re looking for a good gangster movie but maybe want something different from The Public Enemy or Little Caesar, Johnny Apollo might be just what you’re looking for. Tyrone Power doesn’t have the menacing presence of James Cagney, but he was good at playing the young, disillusioned type. Until now, I only knew Dorothy Lamour from the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “Road” movies, but I think I like her more as a hardened gangsters moll than I did in the “Road” movies. Edward Arnold and Lloyd Nolan bring a lot of life to the supporting cast. Johnny Apollo doesn’t have the grit and action of the 1930s Warner Brothers gangster movies, it’s much more polished than those, but I do think it’s a rather underrated gangster flick.