Vienna has built a saloon outside of town, and she hopes to build her own town once the railroad is put through, but the townsfolk want her gone. When four men hold up a stagecoach and kill a man the town officials, led by Emma Small, come to the saloon to grab four of Vienna's friends, the Dancin' Kid and his men. Vienna stands strong against them, and is aided by the presence of an old acquaintance of hers, Johnny Guitar, who is not what he seems. Written by
Ed Sutton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This deservedly legendary western has to be seen to be believed. Directed by Nicholas Ray in blazing color, courtesy of Harry Stradling, Jr., it's western featuring the rivalry between two women, Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge, as they quarrel over two men, Sterling Hayden and Scott Brady, and shake things up in the Old West, Hollywood style, 1954. The film is for all practical purposes experimental. Ray is indulging himself in color, composition and space, nudging the viewer toward laughter at every twist and turn of its convoluted plot. As a purely visual exercise the film is a rousing success. Although Victor Young's music is nice, and the late Peggy Lee does a good job with the title tune, this one's better with the sound off. It is a movie to see, to experience, and very hard to discuss. Lord knows, I've tried. If you can make sense out of it, I'll buy you dinner. My best guess is that Ray was taking all the aspects of film that are traditionally ancillary and incidental, and putting them ahead of everything else. What I like most about Johnny Guitar is the way Joan Crawford's saloon is designed, the undergound cave, the waterfall, the cabin on top of the hill, the moments of intimacy and emotion as they occur in these places, and how the viewer is encouraged to suspend his disbelief of what the story is about and give into his emotions, as the characters give into theirs', and let the devil take the hindmost. Ray succeeded marvelously here, as there's nothing else quite like this one; and the movies in general as far as I'm concerned are still lagging behind it, by several decades.
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