125 user 87 critic

Johnny Guitar (1954)

Not Rated | | Drama, Western | 23 August 1954 (USA)
After helping a wounded gang member, a strong-willed female saloon owner is wrongly suspected of murder and bank robbery by a lynch mob.


Nicholas Ray


Philip Yordan (screenplay), Roy Chanslor (based on novel by)
1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »




Complete credited cast:
Joan Crawford ... Vienna
Sterling Hayden ... Johnny 'Guitar' Logan
Mercedes McCambridge ... Emma Small
Scott Brady ... Dancin' 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


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 <esutton@mindspring.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Caught in the crossfire of danger and desire. See more »


Drama | Western


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Peggy Lee wrote the lyrics to the theme song and sings it over the closing credits. See more »


When Lou from the posse says that he panned every inch of the stream, his lips don't match the sound so it is clearly dubbed. See more »


Vienna: [Looking down at the deserted gambling area of her saloon] Spin the wheel, Eddie.
Eddie: [Perplexed] What for? There's no customers.
Vienna: I like to hear it spin.
[Eddie drops his paper and gives the roulette wheel a good spin]
See more »


Referenced in Mi hermana va a una fiesta (1980) See more »


Johnny Guitar
by Peggy Lee and Victor Young
Sung by Peggy Lee
Heard instrumentally over the opening credits and throughout the film
Played on the piano by Joan Crawford (dubbed)
Sung partially at the end by Peggy Lee
See more »

User Reviews

Bizarre "Guitar"
16 February 2006 | by marissas75See all my reviews

I would love to know what prompted a studio executive in the early 1950s to green-light "Johnny Guitar". Not that it's a worthless movie, but it's just so incredibly strange. Who thought that audiences wanted to see a Western where gun-slinging outlaws go by none- too-frightening nicknames like Johnny Guitar, Turkey, and the Dancin' Kid? Where the primary plot interest isn't with the male characters, but with two antagonistic women played by Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge? (And whose bright idea was it to bring Peggy Lee in to do the theme song?) Were the story's parallels to McCarthyism enough to get this film made? Was Nicholas Ray a respected enough director that the studio approved this project of his? I don't know, but I certainly would like to.

Of course, nowadays "Johnny Guitar" enjoys a reputation as a camp classic that makes subversive statements about things like feminism and homosexuality. Traditional gender roles get reversed: Johnny (Sterling Hayden) is a relatively passive hero, while his love interest, saloon-owner Vienna (Crawford) is described as being almost more man than woman. And there are many campy, laughable moments: the sight of Johnny holding a teacup, Vienna's poufy dress catching on fire, and most of McCambridge's intense performance as the vindictive Emma Small.

In some sense, though, the movie doesn't go as far as it could. We hear about Vienna's supposed masculinity more than see it: Crawford's voice and mannerisms are much too refined to suggest any kind of manliness. Maybe this is part of "Johnny Guitar"'s camp appeal, but otherwise I'd simply call it a bad performance. In another example of telling, not showing, the characters' convoluted psychology gets spelled out within the first fifteen minutes (e.g. Emma loves the Dancin' Kid, but is so afraid of her own sexuality that she thinks she wants him dead). But wouldn't "Johnny Guitar" be even stronger, and more subversive, if Vienna were truly masculine? Or if the characters' twisted motivations were allowed to unfold naturally, rather than told to us from the start?

Watching "Johnny Guitar," you get the feeling that the filmmakers were trying to make a big thematic statement of a kind not usually found in Westerns. But the exact nature of that statement is never clear (that's probably why this film is so tantalizing to modern scholars who want to decode its secrets). The result is a very bizarre, rather campy, completely unforgettable movie that hints at something more substantial, but never reveals what it is. Maybe if I knew the reason that this movie was initially made, I'd have a chance of figuring it out. But somehow I doubt even that would help much.

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Release Date:

23 August 1954 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Johnny Guitar See more »


Box Office

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

Republic Pictures (I) See more »
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Technical Specs


| (cut)

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)


Color (Trucolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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