Kathie Aumont (Simone Simon) is travelling by train from her home in Quebec to live with her best friend Sally (Gladys Blake) who has promised her a job working in a munitions factory in Washington. However, as she sits in the carriage, she reads about gremlins in a magazine article and how they come down from the clouds occasionally to stop bothering pilots and bother pedestrians instead. She doesn't think anything of this until she starts growing sleepy, and accidentally knocks over a salt cellar, resulting in one of those gremlins appearing and landing her with seven weeks' bad luck.
Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore was one of those comedies which had a very specific background, that being the wartime housing shortage in the United States' capital, although you didn't need insider knowledge to appreciate its premise. Mostly this was recalled for two reasons, one because it featured an early role for future star Robert Mitchum, who shows up late on in the action for a few scenes, and two because it offered one of the few leading parts in a Hollywood movie for Simone Simon, the cult French actress for whom most would identify with her previous hit Cat People where appropriately for such a kittenish performer she played a woman who would turn into a big cat.
She didn't do that here, but there was a fantasy element in that gremlin, who has alarmed many an unwary viewer who happened to switch channels and get a glimpse of what looks like an ordinary forties comedy, so what was that little critter doing in this? Kathie is pretty much the only character aware of it - played in a costume by Jerry Maren and unmistakably voiced by an uncredited Mel Blanc - but its machinations in bringing her a dose of ill fortune propel the plot for once she reaches the capital, Sally reveals she's just been married (to W.C. Fields foil Grady Sutton) and cannot offer her a place in her apartment after all. This means Kathie has to wander the streets, faced with a plethora of "No Vacancy" signs.
That is until she happens to notice Johnny (William Terry) walking out of his housing block, having joined the Marines and yes, leaving a free apartment which Kathie manages to persuade him on the spot to give her a key to. What she doesn't know is Johnny is overgenerous with those keys and about half a dozen others have keys to the place as well, hence her repeated line "Johnny doesn't live here anymore" when yet another soul enters the rooms. Here is where it gets complicated, because while she has fallen for Johnny (in spite of meeting him for such a short time) one of his friends is sailor Mike (James Ellison), and when he walks in she falls for him as well.
Though you can't really blame that on the gremlin, that's mostly down to Kathie in a plot twist which was rather saucy for the day. This was a Monogram picture, which was Poverty Row at best, illustrating how Hollywood just didn't know what to do with Simon so that she ended up in B movies instead of the A films she was intended for. After the war ended, she was back in France, but left a handful of American works which were the basis of her following among certain film fans even to this day; once they'd discovered those they would investigate her European works, and though she may have been a handful in real life her screen presence remained incredibly appealing. Even in a throwaway piece of fluff like ths she offers a good reason to watch, and the manner in which it lapses into weirdness with the gremlin doesn't hurt either; the laughs might have been sparing, but there was a charm here, the sort of charm one gets from watching an old cartoon. Music by W. Franke Harling.
Born in Joseph Otto Mandel in Vienna, May was one of the founding figures of German cinema. May began directing in 1911 after working in operetta and set up his own production house, helping to establish Fritz Lang as a scriptwriter. May was a prolific director at the famous UFA studios, making films such as Asphalt and Homecoming, although he was more interested in crowd-pleasing pictures than the more groundbreaking work of Lang or F.W. Murnau.
Like Lang, May headed to Hollywood when Hitler began his rise to power. In 1937 he made the moody thriller Confession, starring Basil Rathbone, but subsequently found himself stuck making B-movies for Universal. The most notable were The Invisible Man Returns, House of the Seven Gables and the comedy Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore, starring a young Robert Mitchum. May retired from filmmaking in 1950 and died four years later in Los Angeles.