FORGOTTEN BOOKS: THE THREE WORLD OF JOHNNY HANDSOME!
Justifiably better known for his novel The Taking Of Pelham 123, John Godey also the authored a number of other thrillers. My favorite among them is The Three Worlds Of Johnny Handsome, a twisting revenge tale that has you rooting for the soul-scarred anti-hero every step of the way.
Highly intelligent, appallingly disfigured by the harsh circumstances of life as much as by the accidents of birth (facial disfigurement, cleft palate), career thief John Mitchell Sedley – nicknamed, predictably enough, Johnny Handsome – casts a bizarre shadow over the events of this off-beat novel.
While in prison, Johnny becomes the guinea pig in a rehabilitation experiment, and goes under a plastic surgeon’s knife. The operation is so successful in repairing Johnny’s multitude of physical appearance issues (cleft palate, chin, ears, brow, and broken nose) that he is unrecognizable to anyone who has know him. It is hoped his new face will allow him to live in the straight world. However, Johnny’s scars are not simply skin deep, and the lure of revenge is powerful . . .
THE THREE WORLDS OF JOHNNY HANDSOME
Johnny Handsome was a joke. Fate had dealt him a twisted face, the brain of a genius, and a mocking nickname to remind him of his ugliness.
Johnny Handsome was a thief. And he liked his work.
He carved out a rep for being efficient, deadly, and always ready for a score.
Johnny Handsome was six feet under. But his memory died hard. It reached out of the grave to haunt the richest bank hit ever attempted.
Even in 1972 when The Three Worlds Of Johnny Handsome was published, the ex-con who is trying to go straight, but can’t resist one last job was somewhat of a cliché, yet Godey imbues the character with enough pathos to breathe life into the standard crime fiction trope. Godey also uses an unusual and clever blueprint for the novel (thus the three worlds of the title), which adds several twists to the story.
The book was made into the underrated 1989 film, Johnny Handsome, starring Mickey Rourke and directed by Walter Hill. The film combines a number of minor characters from the novel and adds a different flavor as the story is told more from the point of view of the cop (Morgan Freeman) dogging Johnny’s steps and predicting his downfall.
Both book and film work a different sort of magic and are worth reading and viewing as a whole for a heightened experience.