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A group of copper miners, Southern veterans, are terrorized by local rebel-haters, led by deputy Lane Travis. The miners ask stage sharpshooter Johnny Carter to help them, under the impression that he is the legendary Colonel Desmond. It seems they're wrong; but Johnny's show comes to Coppertown and Johnny romances lovely gambler Lisa Roselle, whom the miners believe is at the center of their troubles. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
When you kill a man, he dies just as bad or just as stupid as the moment when you put the bullet in him. If you let him live, he's still got a chance to learn things.
Deputy Lane Travis:
Well, that's smart... provided he learns the right things.
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First off, I love Ray Milland. He's so cool and collected. The man can wear golden hoop earrings and fend off Marlene Dietrich without looking the slightest bit unnerved (see "Golden Earrings"). He's calm in this also, and he doesn't even attempt to let you in on the whole "Is he the guy or isn't he?" conflict that runs through this film. (I also enjoy the COMPLETELY different "Is she or isn't she?" of "Johnny Guitar," but that's another story.) I rarely discuss the plot (I'm usually distracted) but Ray Milland is approached to help some former Rebels who are being cheated by former Yankees. Sort of a "You killed my son so I won't buy your product" thing. That gives Ray a chance to deliver a disgustingly sappy speech direct from Abraham Lincoln. Discrimination of any kind is a touchy subject, and it is difficult to get it into a film without offending someone, so A for effort on that point.
Hedy "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" Lamarr is the good-bad girl. Or is it the bad-good girl? She's the seemingly bad girl who proves to be good in the end. There we go. She's gorgeous in color, and that's definitely the highlight of her performance. There has never been any reason to have women in westerns--I've always hated that. They just stand around looking delicate and lovely (how they managed to do that in the old West where the ratio of men to women was staggering I'll never know). They're something to fight over, but that's it. Hedy tries to worm her way into the plot, but when the action starts she's out of the running. "Johnny Guitar" isn't like that, but those aren't regular "women" in the usual sense of the word. I for one desperately wanted to see Hedy pick up her shotgun and blow her corrupt not-boyfriend right out of the saddle. But no. She had to stand on the porch and watch the action from afar. She did blow him out of the saddle a few times, but that was different, and of course sex-related.
I think I would have appreciated this film more had Ray Milland been a simpering entertainer and Barbara Stanwyck a rough-and-ready female rancher with bone to pick with everyone. Not that Hedy Lamarr's bad, but this isn't her thing. (I also love the obligatory explanation of her accent. In this, she's from New Orleans, where everyone has an accent of some kind. In "Come Live With Me," she's naturally from Austria. They can't just let us wonder why a foreign-accented beauty turns up in Nevada and starts playing poker with the sheriff.)
All in all, it's entertaining, but don't roll out the red carpet yet.
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