Sunday, Sep 2020
Director: Nicholas Ray (Also directed Rebel Without a Cause, 1955)
Screenwriters: Philip Yordan from Roy Chanslor's novel
Theme Song: Johnny Guitar, Peggy Lee
Released: 1954

johnny guitarThis is simply an amazing movie. Critics and cult-film enthusiasts alike have been arguing over this film for years, trying to determine its meaning and figure out its unrelenting and seemingly satirical intensity. Is this Western a parody, is it a political allegory of McCarthyism, or is it a movie which is just consistently a little bit 'off' in many different ways? Martin Scorsese cites Johnny Guitar as one of his primary influences. He says the movie is filmed at an "operatic pitch." Such is certainly the case -- every line of dialogue is virtually shouted with undiluted angst. Mercedes McCambridge sets the shrieking pitch of the film as the lynch mob leader with an insane hatred of Joan Crawford. The movie is filled with constant, inexplicable confrontations, and the tension is undiminished throughout. Out of nowhere, one man challenges Ernest Borgnine: "Bart, you don't drink, you don't smoke . . . you're mean to horses -- what do you like?" Sterling Hayden's speech about what a man really needs is a gem. He and Crawford are perfectly cast and give this peculiar, operatic dialogue as much credence as it can carry. Among the odd delights of the movie is Crawford's saloon/casino, certainly the least frontier-looking room any Western has ever displayed.

The women are in charge in Johnny Guitar, a welcome twist to Western stories. What the film goes on to do with this twist is anyone's guess. But guesses should be made -- this movie is certainly worthy of investigation and highly entertaining to boot. The oddities and mystery of the film make this an indispensable view for Western enthusiasts.

--Jed

Cast:

  • Joan Crawford ... Vienna
  • Sterling Hayden ... Johnny Guitar
  • Mercedes McCambridge ... Emma Small
  • Scott Brady ... Dancing Kid
  • Ward Bond ... John McIvers
  • Ben Cooper ... Turkey Ralston
  • Ernest Borgnine ... Bart Lonergan
  • John Carradine ... Old Tom
  • Royal Dano... Corey
  • Frank Ferguson ... Marshal Williams
  • Paul Fix... Eddie
  • Rhys Williams ... Mr. Andrews
  • Ian MacDonald ... Pete
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