Johnny Guitar (1954) Poster

(1954)

User Reviews

Review this title
128 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
8/10
Dancin' Kid: "Can you play?" Johnny Guitar: "Can you Dance?"
krorie2 February 2006
Surely this allegorical western influenced Clint Eastwood when he directed his "Pale Rider" and "High Plains Drifter," though I've never read where he has mentioned it. There are certainly similarities, especially with "High Plains Drifter." The brilliant director Nicholas Ray who threw so much of himself and his search for artistic expression on film into his works at times carries the allegory too far. Good allegory, such as "Moby Dick" and "Huckleberry Finn," must never become too obvious. It then descends into mere cleverness and creative arrogance. The posse from Hell dressed in black led by a perverted Joan of Arc doesn't leave much to the viewer's imagination. Except for a few such parts, most of the movie purports itself well and tells an effective story that can be interpreted on several different levels.

Mercedes McCambridge playing the demonic sexually repressed Emma Small (again the name makes it too easy for the viewer) stands tall amongst a cast of giants. That her voice would be used for the devil's own in "The Exorcist" is understandable for it crackles with fire and brimstone. Jealousy and rejection guide in her determination, nay obsession, to destroy both her sexual rival Vienna and her unrequited love the Dancin' Kid. Sterling Hayden plays the lead character Johnny Logan aka Guitar to perfection. Hayden was not only under-appreciated by the Hollywood moguls but even by himself. In interviews he always trashed his acting talents in much the same way Robert Mitchum tended to do his own. He maintained he was just doing a job that he didn't like very much. In reality Hayden was one of the best performers of his generation as was also true of Mitchum. Joan Crawford who was often miscast finds her niche in "Johnny Guitar." As her roulette spinner says to the camera,"She's more of a man than a woman." She is in control at all times even when there's a rope around her neck. She tells Johnny Guitar when to play his instrument and The Dancin' Kid when to dance. She even holds the posse from Hell at bay until Emma Small steps in. Emma is also a woman in control but only of external forces. Inside, her emotions, fears, and frustrations dominate.

Ernest Borgnine was still playing bullies, which he did so well, at this point in his career. Royal Dano the consumptive gang member always true to The Dancin' Kid gives his usual fine performance. Veteran actor John Carradine appears in somewhat of a different type role than usual as the loyal caretaker for Vienna. One part hearkens back to his best screen portrayal as Preacher Casy in "The Grapes of Wrath" when he tells Vienna that he'll hide young Turkey out in the cottonwoods so the posse can't find him. Nicolas Ray aided young aspiring actors with ability by showcasing their talents in his films. He introduced Dennis Hopper who has an uncredited bit part in "Johnny Guitar." Later Hopper would appear in Ray's "Rebel Without a Cause" with James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. Look for two other faces that were mainstays of the cinema Sheb Wooley ("High Noon"--he also wrote and recorded "The Purple People Eater")and Denver Pyle ("Bonnie and Clyde," "The Dukes of Hazzard"). There's also the inimitable Ward Bond who could always be counted on to give a good performance.

Any show that starts out with a mountain being blown to pieces, a sand storm of Herculean proportions, and a stage coach holdup can be counted on to deliver the goods. The story about a railroad coming through to change the community takes second place to all the other storms and whirlwinds involving jealousy, greed, and murder. Emma and the posse from Hell are not just on a private vendetta. They are also trying to stop progress that threatens their very way of life. Railroads bring new people, new ideas, and new ways of making a living. Those who benefit from change like it. Those who are hurt by change fight against it with all their might. These forces mix with personal ones to make "Johnny Guitar" one of the best westerns ever. It's not to be missed.

The music for "Johnny Guitar" is a definite plus. Peggy Lee sings the title song, which she helped compose with Victor Young, at the end of the movie as no one else could. She had a sultry blues voice with great feeling and emotion. Oft times she is dismissed as a mere pop singer from the 40's and 50's. Peggy Lee was much more. She was one of the great voices for her era. I couldn't find information about who actually played guitar for Sterling Hayden. The picking is flawless. The closest I've come is the name Howard Roberts, who was the jazz guitarist that backed Peggy Lee on her later hit "Fever." I've read that he could play anything on any type guitar. The dance song picked by Johnny Guitar that inspired The Dancin' Kid to dance with Emma was "Ol' Joe Clark," a folk ditty, usually played on the fiddle, that was popular during the time period thus adding authenticity to the show.
80 out of 97 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Great unusual western
funkyfry15 October 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Great cast and stunning direction makes this an offbeat classic. Funny interpretation of gender roles in America -- Crawford as the emasculated nihilistic prostitute/businesswoman, and Hayden (in PERFECT casting) as a slightly pretty-boy gunslinger, a role in which he is as passive to Crawford as a typical film heroine to her hero. All bit parts are memorable, particularly the venomous McCambridge (one of her best characterizations -- it makes my skin crawl every time I see her face light up as they burn the casino) and John Carradine's memorably pathetic death scene.

A lot of people have said a lot of things about this movie. I was glad to see from glancing through the postings on IMDB that there is also some healthy discussion of the movie on here -- how much it means, how little it means. I don't think it was designed to save the world from its madness, nor do I think it's a lesbian love story (although there is some strange element in McCambridge's obsessive hatred of Crawford), but I do think there's something going on beneath the surface of this film that's hard to explain. Somehow, it ended up being much much better than it should have been. One thing is, I think Nick Ray and Phil Yordan decided the story was so ridiculous that they would just concentrate on the emotional elements, also bringing out the pure fantasy (going behind the waterfall to find a hidden fortress, the heroine running from the fire in her white satin dress, etc.) that is the best element of all great film. But it's really hard to pin down any one element that makes it great, so I'll have to stand pat and just say it's a combination of elements that are operating on conscious and subconscious levels to bring about a fantastic movie experience -- to those who are able to surrender to it.

One other element worthy of comment -- the wonderful opening sequence where Hayden rides through a hillside covered in explosions. I really think that the quality of a good movie, and especially a western, can be seen most of the time in how well the director handles an opening sequence. He/she should capitalize on the viewer's total lack of knowledge about the film's situation to create moments of suspense or drama that couldn't possibly occur once the story is set in motion. He should also use this suspense to create tension that will carry the movie forward. Nicholas Ray has done an excellent job of this here; we see Hayden riding through the explosions and wonder what's going on, and then we see (through his eyes) the bank holdup, which he is doing nothing to stop. We don't know if he's a part of the robbery, we can't really see who's doing the robbing, etc. etc. -- it just brings up a lot of questions that keep the audience wanting to see more.

An excellent production, one of Republic's best.
66 out of 85 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Magical and mythic Western with unerring sense of style
ma-cortes13 May 2011
Weird and hysterical Western with Freudian touches , dreamlike emotionalism and magnificent dialogue in which is blended domination, humiliation and a deadly confrontation ; resulting to be a fascinating and melodramatic film .The ex-prostitute Vienna (Joan Crawford) , a Gambling Saloon keeper, has built a saloon outside of town, and she wishes to make her own way once the railroad is put through, but the villagers want her run out of town and some of them hanged . Meanwhile the stagecoach is attacked and four men , Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady) and his hoodlums( Brian Cooper, Ernest Borgnine, Royal Dano) come to the saloon . Righteous Vienna stands strong against them, and is aided by the appearance of a gun-toting old flame of hers, Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), who is not what he seems. As Vienna can't drive Guitar out of her head . Meantime the officials (Frank Ferguson , War Bond) pursue the group led by Dancin' Kid and besiege their booth and occurs a lynch mobs . At the ending takes place a long-expected shootout between the two-fisted enemies averted by a woman's insistence.

Love and hate are woven into two protagonists , the fallen angel Joan Crawford and the spinster landowner Mercedes McCambridge ; both of them share a mythical confrontation . Exceptional performances by all casting as top-notch Joan Crawford as gutsy matriarch squabbling over two men , Sterling Hayden as pacifist saddle-tramp who turns a psychopathic temper taking up his pistols and Mercedes McCambridge as nasty and vengeful harpy . Sensational plethora of secondaries as John Carradine , Paul Fix , Rys Williams , among others. Colorful cinematography with a symbolist use in Trucolor by Harry Stradling. Classic and immortal musical score by Victor Young , including unforgettable songs by Peggy Lee . This hypnotic Western with symbolism rampant is marvelously directed by Nicholas Ray , author of various master pieces and hits as Rebel without cause , 55 days at Pekin and many others . Rating : Very good , exceptional and indispensable seeing . Two thumbs up
16 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
From humble Republic, a remarkable western.
tmwest25 November 2005
When Johnny Guitar opened in Brazil probably in 1955, it was released through a big chain of movie theaters and I remember it being quite successful at the box office, no doubt also helped by the song that was a huge hit. Except for a few critics, most people took it just as a good western with no second thoughts. But there was more to it, "as François Truffaut wrote in his review when it was first shown in France "Never trust in appearances. Beauty and profundity are not always found in the "obvious" traditional places; a Trucolor Western from humble Republic can throb with the passion of "l'amour fou" or whisper with an evening delicacy."" (from "The Western" by Phil Hardy, page232). Seeing it recently I was impressed with the fast pace of the film, the great dialogs, the unusual settings, the incredibly strong presence of Joan Crawford, the hysterical character played by Mercedes McCambridge. Nicholas Ray was a creative director and his great achievement in this film was to take the story seriously, and not try to make a satire.
63 out of 85 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An enjoyable film - but a very unusual western
bob the moo10 April 2004
Just outside of town is a small saloon where the owner, Vienna, plans to develop a new town once the railroad comes through. However her associations with criminals (namely the Dancin' Kid and his gang) bring the disapproving Emma Small and the authorities to the saloon. Aided by the arrival of a man from her past, Vienna stands against them, but only succeeds in putting off the inevitable confrontation in a situation made worse by love and deception.

I came to this film simply because it was the username of another person on the imdb boards and I was intrigued as to what it was about. The film starts as a western but it simply doesn't conform to that genre, instead it is a weirdly matriarchal piece where the traditional roles are almost roundly reversed and the whole film has an otherworldly feel to it. The plot summary doesn't really do justice to a story that essentially comes down to being a battle between Emma and Vienna as well as throwing up all manner of issues regarding the relationships between the characters. The western clichés become secondary to these relationships and the director seems to prefer these to any lynching or shoot out.

The full colour of the film gives it a gaudy, otherworldly appeal that is very enjoyable. Fires range in terrible, hellish reds, while shadows divide scenes of emotional complexity. Heck, it even goes down to the basic level of having the innocent Vienna dressed in perfect white before doing a blood red shirt to become a fugitive. Not all of this works of course, and several times I wished it would settle down into a film that I could recognise rather than being so different from what I am used to, but it was more interesting as a result (aside from being less accessible).

The cast are roundly good but the fireworks belong to the two lead actresses. Despite being the title character, Hayden is rather underplayed but I think that was the point - he is not the typical Western man's man. Crawford is very good as Vienna but she is out-hammed and out-vamped by McCambridge who is excellent. In any other film her performance would be woefully OTT but against the background of a saloon burning with a hellish fire, her facial expression work very well and her whole performance fits well too.

Overall this film is no classic western - mainly because it is not a western but rather a complex story in western clothes. The gaudy colours and cleverly framed shots only serve to enhance a plot that is difficult to fully appreciate but is engaging none the less.
29 out of 37 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
Classic Tough-Talking Feminist Western With Cult Movie Fan Dream Cast
ShootingShark6 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Vienna runs a casino in a remote western outpost but her prospects are looking up when the railroad plans to build in the area. However, she is not popular with the local cattle barons, who intend to run her off her land ...

Johnny Guitar is a much beloved and iconic little western, and a lot of fun to watch, mostly due to its snappy dialogue and sensational cast of wacko character actors. The script by Philip Yordan (from Roy Chanslor's book), is in some ways a laughably stodgy set of clichés - the small town railroad scam, the ostracised scarlet hussy, the good time gang with a den hidden in the hills, the mysterious stranger from the past, the gun-happy lynch mob - and it sometimes degenerates into awkward melodrama. In another sense however it's an extremely original, revelatory story about two powerful and indomitable women who defer to nobody and will stop at nothing to protect their interests. The idea of a western where uber-tough-guys like Hayden and Bond kowtow to the ladies and which culminates in an all-female gunslinger shootout must have been incredibly daring in 1954 and doesn't disappoint. Everyone is great, with Crawford and Brady never better, Hayden a classic hardball-chewing enigmatic dude, and Borgnine and Carradine both as excellent as ever. Best of all however is an incredible McCambridge as the zealous, repressed, cracking pint-sized bundle of fury that is Emma Small. If you're not familiar with McCambridge, check her out in Giant, Touch Of Evil or her legendary vocal performance in The Exorcist. She was an amazing actress who lead a fairly wild life and threw herself into her art, and she is just amazingly intense in this picture. There's also a great lurching score by the prolific Victor Young (featuring a memorable song coda by Peggy Lee) and the movie was shot on location in the rugged red sandstone mountain scenery of Sedona, Arizona. This is one of many great examples of an intelligent, original B-picture (it was one of the last hurrahs for Republic Pictures) which has long outlasted its more expensive contemporaries purely through the talent and tenacity of its makers.
9 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
A Shakespearian western
Rueiro4 February 2003
I was 15 the very first time I watched this wonderful movie, and from that moment it became a kind of cult classic, a cinema icon, for me. I had to wait over ten years to be able to enjoy it again, and by this time it had reached the category of legend on my personal film paradise. The great score by Victor Young, which I never could forget, is probably the most romantic and sentimental music ever composed for the screen, with the Johnny Guitar theme, with the voice of Peggy Lee, bringing us the fascination of the legend they called Johnny Guitar. Also the fantastic colourful images, with those reddish tones of fire and passion, and the backgrounds, the landmarks, the characters and the sutile and perfect dialogues, make this film a total masterpiece or modern cinema. A western without savages, cavalry, rodeos, and the usual John Ford stuff. A different western, ahead of its time, and very misunderstood by the public then, but, fortunately, reborn from the limbo and forgiveness, rediscovered by new generations, and still alive, fresh as in its first day, and always inmortal. Joan Crawford was never so great, and the exchange of poisoned words with McCambridge at the saloon "You haven't got the nerve" , and "If I don't kill you first" on reply to "I'll kill you" by Emma, makes me to smile, as both characters show they wear the trousers rather than the men do. In short, there never was a film like Johnny Guitar, and there never will. Now, on its 50th aniversary, it is time to enjoy it once more, and to wish that we could have been at Vienna's, being part of that group of characters with no equal in cinema iconography.
48 out of 69 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Color, Color, Everywhere!
telegonus9 September 2002
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.
46 out of 66 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
`There was never a man like my Johnny'
IlyaMauter19 May 2003
Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) walks into a saloon run by Vienna (Joan Crawford), who is his past love whom he hasn't seen for five years. He's looking for a job as guitar player. Many things has changed since they saw each other for the last time, Vienna turned from a plain saloon singer to its owner, and Johnny Guitar, also known as John Logan, one of the fastest to draw the gun in the West, passed through many tribulations too, but one thing immediately becomes clear as they meet again (`I've waited for you, Johnny') that the major suffering they had to pass through was the solitude, the pain of separation from each other.

But five years is a long time and `How many man have you forgotten? – As many as you remember.' There's a man she hasn't forgotten yet called Dancing Kid and there's also a woman who haven't forgiven Vienna for not forgetting him, his most dangerous rival in life and in love Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), ready to stop before nothing to have her revenge on Vienna and get Dancing Kid's heart back from her possession.

But `Spin the wheel, Eddie!' and here is Emma together with town's Marshal accusing Dancing Kid and his partners of recently committed robbery. The accusation that soon makes them go against the law and flee together with Johnny and Vienna. `Keep the wheel spinning, Eddie!' There they are on the run towards the end culminating in a duel between the two women and in so many loves and so many deaths. `Stop spinning the wheel, Eddie!'

Fabulous acting by fabulous actors, wonderful script with unforgettably intelligent and witty dialogs, magnificent direction and intensity of passions surpassing the impact of deaths of `cowboys dying with the grace of ballet dancers' (François Truffaut in his review on the film). What more can I say? Simply one of the greatest Westerns ever made that deserves to be seen and seen again. 10/10
34 out of 48 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
One of the Most Anomalous Out-of-Nowhere Singularities of the Studio System
jzappa17 October 2010
Johnny Guitar is a gender drama with obsessive personalities flirting with dementia: the character played by Mercedes McCambridge is unmistakably the main baddie, but Joan Crawford's character is not completely pleasant, grimacing as she does through much of the movie. Vienna's own sexually linked psychological fixation influences her in correspondingly curious digressions; she dresses thoroughly in white in a climactic scene where she must confront McCambridge, who dresses in black for most of the film. The men dramatically defer to the powerful determination and identities of these two women. Sterling Hayden as the eponymous hero is something less of a hero on account of Crawford's compulsion. The fact that he plays a guitar and travels without a gun gives a hint to the devalorizing of the Western hero boilerplate inferred by the title. He's a subordinate character, given to hesitation. He's mainly a bystander: His catchphrase is "I'm a stranger here myself," which can also characterize Nicholas Ray here himself.

The other male principals also take a subordinate role to the women; none of the posse, not even McIvers, its suggested chief, can bring himself to refuse McCambridge's Emma, even when lives depend on it. The Dancin' Kid makes several crucial choices, including the robbing of a bank, based on whether or not Vienna will go on reciprocating his sentiments rather than leaving him for Johnny. Johnny and the Kid are both atypically tender cowboys in contrast with the icons of the time, together with the basis that each has a creative craft that's part of his name, and that both in most cases allow the female characters to make the choices and are inclined to comply with them.

Scorsese has talked about the great theme-smugglers of the studio era who snuck subversive elements past the scrutiny of the censors. This is definitely true and admirable, but sometimes I'm baffled at what must've been functional retardation on the part of Hayes' puritan committee. This 1954 Freudian Western is one of the record out-of-the-blue phenomenons of the studio system, a film so insubordinate it's a miracle it ever got made. But despite its genre, this is a gentle, thin-skinned film, Ray's tenderest avowal of his outsider theme.

As with Ray's In a Lonely Place, On Dangerous Ground and Bitter Victory, characters come across truths that they don't want to admit to themselves or others, and sometimes this information is obvious to those around them first. He uses innuendo as a way to deal with plot developments that can't be externalized, or those that haven't come to pass yet. The characters are rounded out through teasing, accusation, high emotion.

Ray, known for his dramatic use of architecture, was keen on the meanings of the horizontal line, which serves a western particularly well. The first and second halves of the film have different visual styles. But both sections feature extensive panning. The second half features brilliant landscape photography, as Ray's camera pans over snow-covered mountain roads and trails. These sections are unusual in that they don't feature wilderness areas. Instead, these scenes always have human habitations in them: roads, farmhouses, paths, and other human constructions. They can be described as rural, or as tourist areas: the sort of remote but inhabited location one might go to on vacation. Such locales rarely pop up in movies. Westerns, which feature vast landscapes, tend to have wilderness areas without modern buildings. And contemporary films rarely go to such poverty stricken tourist spots, preferring resort and wilderness areas with more glamour.

However, no matter what intellectual appreciation movie buffs and film scholars and critics have for it, it's impossible to deny its utterly ham-fisted acting and soapy plot strands, all approaching out-and-out kitsch. I've seen a good deal of westerns with more understated, salt-of-the-earth acting that brought me closer to the grit inherent to its environment. This is the diametric opposite of being one of them. Did any of them have whiplash after a certain amount of takes? Why such intense about-faces and comic-book demeanor? Was Douglas Sirk on set? After awhile, I gave up on the performances. Their imaginations don't seem engaged. They pretend self-consciously. They're stiff, tightly wound. They never let go. And though Crawford is never uninteresting or by any means bad in any film in which I see her, I feel she should've been told as much as necessary that acting is not a competition, that everything must be done for the good of the film or everybody else is put at risk. But she's not the only one who showboats here; everybody does. Despite a cast of performers that tend to intrigue me, the two females, Hayden, Ernest Borgnine, I could only rely on Ray's building of tension through montage and his marshaling of the plot to keep me engaged. Nevertheless, Johnny Guitar is a certain kind of film that has upheld its rank by repositioning itself every decade since its release.
10 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Perverse and fascinating...
Nazi_Fighter_David27 August 1999
"Johnny Guitar" is a perverse and fascinating Western where sexual drive plays an important part in the story... It is known that Emma's madness/hysteria is a result of sexual repression... She detests Vienna, who has her choice of men, when the only man she can stir up herself is ugly Bart... And what is especially enraging for Emma is that while she is desperate for the Kid's love, Vienna, who now has Johnny back, turns the Kid away and still he doesn't stop being loyal to her... Even before Johnny returned to her life, Vienna had reached control over her sexual desires; but Emma hasn't such will power...

Johnny Guitar rides into a small town in the wilds of Arizona... He has been hired to work as guitarist by an aggressive lady of fortune, owner of a saloon-casino... Five years earlier they had been lovers, but he walked out on her, too restless to settle down...

There is a stage robbery, and a banker is killed... Emma Small (Mercedes McCambirdge), the dead man's sister, comes to Vienna's accompanied by the town marshal (Frank Farguson), and the wealthy rancher John McIvers (War Bond), and a bunch of vigilantes...

Emma and McIvers are determined to keep the area an open range for cattle... Emma also despises Vienna because the man she loves, the Dancin'Kid (Scott Brady), is attracted to her... She would rather see the Dancin'Kid dead than with Vienna, and tries to convince her companions that Vienna, the Kid, and the Kid's partners— stingy Bart (Ernest Borgnine), sickly Corey (Royal Dano), and young Turkey (Ben Cooper)—are responsible for her brother's death and should be hanged... Neither the marshal nor her ally McIvers will go along with her without real evidence, but McIvers orders Vienna and the Kid's gang to clear out the town...

That night, Vienna and Johnny admit they still love each lover... They agree to start again, but neither is certain the other can be relied upon... Vienna doesn't like Johnny's violent nature and Johnny is jealous that Vienna has had many lovers...

The following day, the Kid and his three companions decide to rob Emma's bank - figuring that as long as they are being forced to flee the area it might as well be for a genuine crime and not a stage robbery which they had no part in... The bank robbery takes place just as Vienna was withdrawing her money...

Joan Crawford wears black and packs six-guns... She makes all the decisions, initiates the action, and takes the majority of heroic stands—Privileges traditionally denied women in Westerns... Vienna dreams of a railroad and a new town... She wants to remain neutral, and sit and wait for the railroad to come and make her rich... She is at her best when she refuses to allow Emma and the vigilantes to arrest her for the murder of Emma's brother... She sees herself still in love with Johnny... She searches his face in every man she mets... Now she finds it hard keeping the peace between the two men who love her...

As Johnny Guitar, Sterling Hayden is a loner with a past... His character struggles to control hostile impulses... In fact, he begins with true explosion that occurs when he rides across the screen... Soon he finds himself compelled to strap on his gun again to protect his love...

Dressed in a black funeral dress, Mercedes McCambirdge is a highly frustrated Emma who constantly reminds the cattle people that Vienna is a foreigner, having lived in the region only five years... Appealing to their bigotry, she warns them that if the railroad comes through as Vienna plans, dirt farmers will push the cattlemen out of the territory...

As the Dancin'Kid, Scott Brady is a left-handed-draw, leader of a wild bunch, whose only desire is 'to leave the town so broke.' He tosses a coin into the air, promising Johnny Guitar he'll kill him if it turns out "head."

Nicholas Ray will be always remembered for "The Lusty Men," "Run for Cover," "The True Story of Jesse James," and "Johnny Guitar," his first film in color... With great skill, he makes a fantastic Western with two gun-carrying ladies in a showdown to-the-death...
46 out of 70 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
An Excellent Feminist Western Movie
claudio_carvalho9 April 2004
Vienna (Joan Crawford) is a woman with an unknown past, who built a saloon in an area outside town, waiting for the railroad, which would pass nearby her bar. She has a great enemy, the evil Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), who wants to expel Vienna from that place. The reason for the dispute is the love for Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady), a handsome man. The simple guitar player Johnny 'Guitar' Logan (Sterling Hayden) arrives in the bar, invited by Vienna, to work with her. The locals are not aware that Johnny was the former lover of Vienna and a famous gunman. When Dancin' Kid and his partners rob the local bank, Emma finds a motive to accuse and chase Vienna.

This movie is an excellent and very feminist western. The story is different from most of other movies of this genre and based on the rivalry of the two lead actresses. I do not recall any other western movie having such powerful roles for women. The DVD released by the Brazilian distributor Versátil is wonderful, being totally restored and re-mastered, highlighting the marvelous colors of the costumes of Joan Crawford. Mercedes McCambridge has an outstanding performance in the role of a very mean and powerful woman. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): 'Johnny Guitar'
42 out of 66 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
color, in black and white
robveal27 January 2008
Boy this is a jewel, and for many different reasons. A good lot of people deserve credit for their work

First is Nicholas Ray for his direction. A fine preparation and presentation of the visual elements really took some doing. The use, but not excessive glorification (thank goodness), of the relatively new Trucolor is well-done; the horses full of black-clad riders rushing up the rocky hill in the night, the many shots of the furious blazes dissolving Vienna's place, and so much more.

The acting is remarkable. Sterling Heyden, just in standing before the camera and delivering his lines in that firm and fearless manner (ala Asphalt Jungle), is a strong presence. John Carradine once again shows himself as the precious dramatist he proved himself to be many years before in The Grapes of Wrath.

What strikes me the most, though, is Ben Maddow's (thank Phillip Yordan for being an heroic front) screenplay. It is not only thick in theme and symbolism, it is thick with what was (at the time) almost unprecedented elements. Both Vienna and Emma are, as either GOOD or BAD, shown as the leaders of men! Pacifism is being shown as a good thing! Is that the good guys wearing black and the bad guys wearing white (or maybe the other way around)?! As many comments have mentioned, the Un-American Activities Committee parallels (complete with the entire Ox-Bow-esquire element) are, really, quite thinly veiled. The economically powerful, Small and McIver, are dominant and monopolistic capitalists (a version of antagonism almost unseen, for obvious reasons, since the McCarthey-assaulted Force of Evil). Remember, this is 1954!!!! This stuff is downright revolutionary! How did they ever get it all past the censors and masters of the code?

Let's hope time doesn't forget this one in favor of some formulaic shoot-'em-ups simply because they feature "the Duke."
13 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
So Bad, you have to Look: Like a Train Wreck - Johnny Guitar
arthur_tafero19 November 2018
This is the funniest unintentional comedy/Western ever made. It has characterizations that will literally leave you with your mouth open. There are more nuts in this movie than in a pecan pie. Some of the worst acting and overacting in the history of Hollywood is painfully apparent as well. I' m a hetrosexual; but if I were a man in this town, I would seriously consider becoming gay. There are only two women in the town, and they are both witches. There are more hams in this film than in a German deli; and there is more corn in it than in the entire state of Nebraska. The dialogue is easily the worst script ever written for a Western in the history of film. Joan Crawford is well beyond her attractive years as a lead actress; some might say at least over a decade beyond. But Joan is not alone. Mercedes McCambridge is almost as unbearable to watch and listen to. She is about as attractive as one of those social diseases you might pick up a saloon in those days. You can actually feel the embarrassment of the legitimate actors in this films like Carradine, Bond, Borgnine, and Hayden . After this film, Sterling Hayden mentioned there wasn't enough money in Hollywood for him to make another film with Crawford. Not one, but two musically talented cowboy names: Dancing Kid and Johnny Guitar? This could have been the first Western to hold auditions for America's Got Talent. There are several brilliant plans by both factions in this film; I will not go into lurid detail, but they include spur-of-the-moment decisions like robbing a bank and going to California, opening a fully-staffed casino that no one comes to, taking a job as guitar player for this same casino, a lynching, and a few other cliches that you will recognized even before a word come from the mouths of the unfortunate actors who are made to utter them. Cliches? Oh, there are too many to mention. McCambridge makes the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz look good by comparison. At least the romantic chemistry between Crawford and Hayden was pleasant; about as pleasant as getting a tooth implant without anesthetic. A must see film on how NOT to make a movie.
8 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
One of my new personal favorites
allar10024 May 2003
I have seen Sterling Hayden in a lot of film that I have been picking up lately, and I must say that I think that he is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood history. Anyway, there is nothing like mob mentality, and this film proves it. Good acting, good script, Ernest Borgnine (Nicholas Ray gets bonus points for casting him), and some pretty good direction make this a worthwile western for any fan of the genre. Only a couple a places with some shoddy editing make this film kinda weak in my eyes.
24 out of 38 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Bizarre "Guitar"
marissas7516 February 2006
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.
9 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
Vienna Has The "Sausage"
jimmylee-111 September 2006
I'm a big fan of film noir, and I loved Mildred Pierce. I also like westerns, and I'm not picky about how you classify them - as far as I'm concerned, if there's a horse, John Wayne or Gary Cooper (minus Patricia Neal) or it was shot in the Missouri Flats or by John Ford, it's a western (The Conqueror meets this category quite handily, by the way). So I was ready and willing to watch Johnny Guitar.

But then I saw Joan. Never seen make up like that, anywhere. Nice crop of eyebrows you got coming up this year, Farmer Joan. Not to mention the four alarm lipstick, which she seem to carry regardless of the venue (dancehall, hanging, whatever). Tears of a clown. Wow. Especially since she ran around with her eyes bugging out of her head for the entire movie (this must have been the movie Faye Dunaway watched the most). And the name "Vienna." That trips off the tongue. Most unfortunate product placement.

And how about that Mercedes. She kept herself spun up for the entire film schedule. Suitably bitter and dogmatic, with a little Mrs. Danvers thrown in. I'm not clear how one woman could whip a bunch of men into such a frenzy and keep them following her (although at times witless, I've noticed men are capable of independent thought and dislike abuse), especially since she was often wrong (and they never threw that in her face. That's true to life, suuuure), and when her personal jealousy was so...subtle.

And the "Dancing Kid." Wasn't there one of those in a Roy Rodgers short? Dear me. I can tell by the story we were supposed to take him seriously, but who named him that? The only name sillier would be the "Kissy Face Kid" but that's about as far as you can go.

Speaking of silly, so are the lines. If they're not silly, they're delivered so histrionically, they have a huge potential for staff meeting quotes. Every single line from Joan was delivered with enormous quivering feeling, eyes wide open, huge drama.

There were no nuances, no subtle delivery, no delicate relationships - it was all over the top. And Mercedes just hated, so no subtle acting there; her lines were shrieked and thrown at us. Ernest Bornine was guilty of the same single dimensional acting. The rest of the men - even Sterling Hayden and Ward Bond - with their carefully crafted characters, fade into the background.

I'm sure the book was groundbreaking, and I'm AOK with the women in typically male roles, shooting away, emasculating most of the men in town, irrationally hating each other, and getting caught up in real estate issues. I just couldn't take the one-dimensional characters seriously, or the over the top acting. This is a guilty pleasure cult flick, offering great lines for future amusement. An acting tour de force, it's not. But it's fun.

But the title song, presented ably by Peggy Lee as usual, is a tour de force. It's well worth watching the credits go by. Beautiful.
25 out of 41 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
The More Excess The Better
dougdoepke13 October 2013
Hard to know what to say about this florid concoction except that it's truly one of a kind. Taken as a western, it's plain god-awful. Taken as parody of a western, it's sharp as a doorknob. Taken as an experiment in Technicolor, I can think of cheaper ways. To me, the movie is best taken as a collection of insider indulgence. How else to explain Crawford's Park Avenue get-up, or her desert island casino, or McCambridge's manly fierceness, or a bookish bank-robber, or a showdown for toughest woman of Lesbos.

Now, scholars can play around with symbolism all they want. But first, the subject has to be interesting enough to play with. Seems to me there are worthier movie subjects than this one for analysis. Sure, I've read how the story's really a color-coded allegory of McCarthyism, with the black-clad posse as HUAC and the bank robbers as commies. After all, the Dancin' Kid is left-handed and the gang does stick together and they do rob banks. Probably this is as good a subtext reading as any, that is, if you're looking for some such. Me, I just take it as a slice of Hollywood weirdness with Crawford playing dress-up and in charge, with the estimable Nick Ray trailing somewhere behind.
10 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
Mildred Pierce with a handgun. Lame, lame, lame.
rooster_davis28 February 2011
I previously reviewed this movie and gave it a bad rating. I wish to apologize... I rated it TOO highly even then. This movie is awful.

It has several noteworthy actors and actresses, the cinematography isn't bad, but that's the most I can say in its favor. So what could be that wrong with this movie? Let me count off some things:

1. There is nobody in this movie about whom you could really care. Sterling Hayden as "Johnny Guitar" speaks with a low slow drawl that makes him sound like a jerk. Crawford seems to refer to herself on a couple of occasions as "a gunfighter". Sure. Mercedes McCambridge is a wild-eyed nincompoop. The whole thing just doesn't work. You have to like some of the characters or else there's no point in watching a movie, and nobody in this movie is likable.

2. This movie has some of the worst dialog I've heard this side of an Ed Wood movie. Take this example between the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady) and Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden):

DK: What's your name?

JG: (slow drawl) Johnny Guitar.

DK: That's no name!

"No name..."? This, coming from someone who calls himself 'The Dancin' Kid'...? LOL. But let us carry on with the scene:

JG: And you're the Dancin' Kid.

DK: That's my name, friend. Care to change it?

JG: (slow drawl) No... I kinda like it.

Oh my gosh, it's just so bad....

3. Another poor example of dialog comes when Bart Lonergan (Ernest Borgnine) tries to get Johnny Guitar to have a third drink. Guitar doesn't want it and spills it instead of drinking it. Lonergan says "When a man can't hold a glass he ought to be fed from a bottle, like a baby...Come here Guitar Man, I'll feed you." I think Borgnine went home from that day's shoot and drank himself into a stupor to try and forget that idiotic scene.

4. Then there's this deadly serious but hilarious exchange between "Johnny Guitar" (Sterling Hayden) and "The Dancing Kid" (ROFL) played by Scott Brady:

Johnny Guitar (holding his guitar): "So you're The Dancing Kid...(long pause) Can you dance?"

Dancing Kid: (almost like "are you kidding?!)... "Can you play?"

THEN, "Johnny Guitar" starts strumming away on his guitar - you can see he's not really playing it of course - and "The Dancing Kid" grabs Emma and twirls around with her for a minute. I didn't see anything so remarkable about his dancing that anyone would have bothered giving him a nickname about it, and his nickname would have been a HUGE embarrassment for ANY man - then, or today. And finally, "The Dancin' Kid" hasn't been a kid for 20 years.

5. The main story here is very thin - "Emma" and her friends don't want the railroad to come to the area bringing new settlers and "dirt farmers!" and such; I guess Vienna and her saloon are seen as an attraction to bring thousands of people to the area? The sub-plots are of little real interest or inherent value - "Johnny Guitar" was once in love with "Vienna" and has returned to her from somewhere; "Dancin' Kid" and his gang are allegedly connected with Vienna but she only has a bit of a soft spot for them. What is with the guy in the "Kid's" gang who seems to have TB (he coughs a lot)? This is an assembly of unimportant stories foisted on the same small group of characters. There is nothing at all compelling.

6. There appear to be about a dozen people - total - in the town, and nearly half of them get together to rob the bank. That makes so little sense in so many ways, it's just plain dumb.

7. In one scene after the bank is robbed, Joan Crawford ("Vienna") and Sterling Hayden ("Johnny Guitar") are riding in a small buggy drawn by a single horse. While the horse sounds like it is just trotting along, the scenery flying past their buggy suggests they are moving about 50mph. Very funny to see.

One travesty of this movie is the use of John Carradine - who played such excellent characters, such as Casy in "The Grapes of Wrath" - as a nitwit minor character who echoes the inane statement of Johnny Guitar that 'When you come down to it, all a man wants is a smoke and a good cup of coffee'. I gather this is supposed to be profound as it's mentioned twice. It's not quite profound, it's rather stupid.

Really, I have to question whether the writers of this atrocity ever even saw a Western, other than that the characters carried guns and wore cowboy hats. There are so many really GOOD Westerns, and there are many GOOD Crawford films; Crawford played a TERRIFIC Mildred Pierce, but her role in this movie was a disgrace. This movie is really awful.

I'm sure many will find this review to be 'not useful'. I found the 90 minutes or so spent watching it to be of even less use.
15 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
One of those awful lopsided movies you just have to watch - Spoilers
d_nuttle22 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I don't know what it was; maybe the conspiracy theorists were right, and the Commies were poisoning our water with flouride in the 1950's. But something sure drove Hollywood to come up with some bizarro movies, and this one has to rank toward the top. I won't spend too much time on plot and character. Other reviews cover that in detail. What struck me the most about this movie was its use of Hollywood cliches, in ways that you expect, and in ways you don't.

The stupid machismo is there in abundance. When Johnny first sashays into the bar he essentially challenges every single man there, or rather, scoffs at the implied threat that every newcomer has to earn his place. It's John Wayne stuff magnified to the extreme. You can't help but laugh. And then there's his (Hayden's) delivery of his lines. "Got a light, friend?" "Sometimes a man just wants a smoke...and a cuppacoffee." You have to hear to believe it...he draws out the word "smoke" and then slurs "cuppacoffee" together. It's cartoonish; it's stupid; boy, is it delightful.

There's another character in the movie who's another 1950's Hollywood mainstay, the adult man (35 or 40?) who just isn't a man somehow. Kind of like a character from "Scooby Doo." Goofy and pushed and shoved around by all the other guys, and constantly berating himself even more enthusiastically than everyone else. There's a scene where he's standing outside, watching Hayden ride away, and he says, "Like the man says...sometimes you just want a smoke and a cuppacoffe." Then there's a musical cue that says, "Goofball alert," and the guy does a double-take, as if he just realized he was imitating a "real man," and if any "real men" had seen him being so presumptuous, they would have beaten the tar out of him, just on principle. Is this 1950's Hollywood code for a gay man? I don't know. I guess they just used the generic term "pansy" back then.

Throw in Ernest Borgnine as a grinning, crazy, macho cowboy. A character who's the perfect blond youngblood, who dies in Crawford's arms with a beseeching look. The uber-witch played by McCambridge. And plenty of other stock, cliched, and yet somehow entertaining characters.

And then some of the scenes themselves are a riot. At one point, Crawford and Hayden are riding in a buggy with an obviously fake background, just a screen showing what they're supposed to be riding by. If you go by the screen, they must be travelling at 100 mph, going around hairpin turns that would have simply rolled the buggy over. But the buggy just continues bouncing gently while the two of them talk in ultra-serious tones. Hysterical.

There's another scene where they're hashing things out about past love, standing by a fence during a phony Hollywood sunset, and Crawford invokes the boiling rage that was clearly always inside of her to produce one of the best cheesy performances I've ever seen. Nothing in "Gone with the Wind" ever went any further of the top in hambone acting than this fine performance.

Finally, as others have mentioned, this...creation...isn't a Western at all. It defies characterization. I guess I'd call it a soap opera more than anything; but that's true of anything Crawford was in. Yet that doesn't really cover it either. It's also a hokey paean to women's rights. A psychological analysis of the sexually-frustrated woman. A vendetta story. And at least part Western.

If you like seeing Hollywood oddities, see this movie.
9 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
3/10
Truly comedic
classifieds-22 February 2006
The truth about "Johnny Guitar", is that if it was billed as a comedy it would of been a true hit. Case in point, the "hideout" where the three men live has lace curtains and is so clean you could eat off the floor.

Secondly, when Joan Crawford is offered a change of clothes from a young man, it is rather funny to see that the shirt has a tapered waist and darts. Could it be that this young man was also the person who hung the lacy curtains and kept house for this rough and tumble bunch.

If you love camp, you will love "Johnny Guitar". Just don't expect to see to much of him in the film.
19 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
You're nothing but a railroad tramp who's not fit to live amongst decent people.
hitchcockthelegend6 November 2010
Johnny Guitar is out of Republic Pictures and is directed by Nicholas Ray. It's written by Phillip Yordan, who adapts from a novel written by Roy Chanslor, and it stars Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine & Scott Brady. Victor Young scores the music, with the theme tune sung by Peggy Lee, and Harry Stradling Senior photographs in Trucolor.

On the outskirts of an Arizona cattle town is a saloon run by the strong willed Vienna (Crawford). It's not a busy place, and the users of it tend to be more of the rough kind, notably The Dancing Kid (Brady) and his gang. At the request of Vienna, her former lover Johnny Guitar (Hayden) arrives for his employment as the musical entertainment. But he walks into a war, a war between Vienna and the townsfolk led by the vicious and vindictive Emma Small (McCambridge).

Johnny Guitar has been called many things. From the deep thinkers who like to call it a feminist statement, an anti McCarthyism allegory and a piece smouldering with sexual repressions and yearnings - to the detractors calling it rubbish, campy and acted so badly that it actually smells of bacon cooking in the kitchen. What is immediately evident about it is that once viewed it's unlikely to be forgotten - which ever side of the fence you sit.

It was a troubled production that saw both Hayden & McCambridge declare a dislike for Crawford, with Crawford reciprocating the dislike for McCambridge by insisting that her character of Vienna be given more meat from which to further dominate the film. Fans of the film will forever be grateful for Crawford's jealousy, for she got her way, this was after all a vehicle for her, if she had walked, as was threatened, it would have died a death. The shift in emphasis, with the subversion of gender roles, is what makes Johnny Guitar the most intriguing and unusual film that it is.

Upon release in America the film was very coolly received, but out in Europe, notably France, the New Wave directors were very impressed and the film has gained a cult status over the years. So much so that nowadays it gets name checked by such luminaries like Martin Scorsese - who eagerly provides an introduction on the home format releases for it. What is it that the fans see that makes it such a favourite?. Moving away from the fabulous narrative, where two women are the main characters in a perceived mans world, where the psychoanalytic drama seeps from every frame, it's a technical hotpot as Ray moulds his twisted sexual dynamics together.

Trucolor has never looked this nice before, nor ever been so apt, it's almost surreal, certainly lurid, and it neatly brings to the fore the baroque like sets. While the Sedona photography by Stradling, particularly the red and browns of the landscape, is quite simply beautiful. Cover it all with a hauntingly evocative score from Young and it's one of Republic's most pleasing Western productions.

The cast came in for some grief from the critics, with the main charge being of them hamming it up. Not so say I, well certainly not to the detriment of the feverish story. Crawford acquits herself well, black eyes, blood red lips and masculine jaw, Crawford nails the task of butch land owner aching for love from within. As her nemesis, McCambridge steals the movie, Crawford was right to feel jealous, such is the intensity that McCambridge puts into Emma. A vicious psychotic harpy, who is sexually frustrated, so witness the orgasmic glee she shows during one particularly vengeful scene. It's a brilliant and frightening performance.

Hayden does what he does best, slinks around and plays it almost close to parody, but never once does he come close to being disparaging, his charisma is massive and he acts it like a coiled spring that's waiting to unfurl. While Bond (puritanical), Brady (edgy) and Borgnine (feral), the three B's, are very efficient in important supporting roles. Special mention also for John Carradine, who plays a background character that, thanks to the prolific actor, manages to get noticed and pangs the heart during the finale. A fine cast that plays it right in this cobweb of Freudian splinters.

Save for some tacky back screen work and the odd incredulous character choice - it's observed that Vienna's white dress will draw attraction to them on the lam then she selects a bright pinky red shirt! - this is near genius. To my mind it's one of the true greats of the Western genre, so count me in as a paid up member for the cult of Johnny Guitar. 9/10
8 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
one of my favorite westerns
Quinoa198424 July 2005
Nicholas Ray, one of those rare directors who could put in a style or outlook of his own in various films of different conventional types in 1950's Hollywood, has with his film Johnny Guitar a job very well done. I had the chance to see it on the big screen at a revival screening some months ago (mostly among Joan Crawford fans) on a double bill with Sam Fuller's Forty Guns. Crawford, McCambridge, and definitely Sterling Hayden (one of my all-time favorite 'guy' actors) brought a lot to the entertainment factor of the film. The story goes like this (and if you've seen Sergio Leone's Once Upom a Time in the West, you'll notice obvious similarities, as his was a slight homage of this film)- Crawford owns a bar/parlor on the edge of town. The townspeople want her out to make way for a railroad, most vocally of this is McCambridge (in maybe the best performance of the film, really the most theatrical). The title character is played with usual panache by Hayden, who at first is a little enigmatic, then reveals himself to have a past with Crawford.

The story then unravels from there, in a way that actually went against my expectations, much to my delight. This is the kind of genre picture that knows what it is, but with a director clever enough to take chances. For example, there is the contrast of color between Crawford and the angry townspeople near the beginning of the film. She's playing the piano on one side of the room in a white dress, while the others, the supposedly 'good' people of the town, are all in black. Is Ray messing with the convention of good guys white, bad guys black, or do we have to keep attentive all the way through to know how it plays out? I think you'd have to - this is one of those westerns that has enough excitement, humor (mostly dark or unintentional), and a climax that goes with some of the best of them. At the least it should hold up for those expecting something very dated- it's not quite as towering as the Leone films, but on its own terms Ray has a contender against all those old-school Ford/Wayne westerns.
8 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
1/10
Super campy "western "
jp40411 February 2005
I find it hard to believe that some people actually take this lurid melodrama seriously. It is so god-awful that it can be highly entertaining to a certain audience.

We see an aging Hollywood queen (Joan Crawford, aged 50[?])desperate to make a movie, any movie, even if it requires dressing up like Black Bart and dragging her heavily varnished Hollywood glamor through the grit and grime of a super hokey western and acting against a leading man (Sterling Hayden) with the talent of a fence post and a converted radio actress (MercedesMcCambridge) chewing the scenery with the ferocity of a blood-crazed shark.

If you want to know what the film is about don't ask me. The story is so convoluted that I lost track after the first thirty minutes. With Miss Crawford's cultivated MGM accent, her carefully lighted and photographed close-ups and meticulous makeup and hair style the film seems to ask the improbable question, "Can a fading female movie star find love and happiness as the proprietor of a seedy 1800's western saloon?"

I suppose it is possible to admire the scenery and vivid cinematography of the film but it is difficult with all the schlock going on in front of it. The real pleasure to be found here is a perverse one; relishing the sheer, unholy badness of it all, the puerile screen play, overwrought dialog and bad acting, ranging from way-too-little to way-too-much with La Crawford trapped in the middle of it but staunchly giving the same mannered performance that she delivered in film after film throughout most of her career.

This thing has to be seen to be believed.
33 out of 65 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
A Loopy Classic
jerk14839 May 2004
The English language, as it was originally conceived, never included the words needed to describe "Johnny Guitar". Is is a perfect film? I think...well, shucks, for what it is, it just might be. Let me justify that claim. Sterling Hayden as the title Mr. Guitar is the perfect actor for the role. You know he's meaning to be taken seriously, but for some reason, you just quite can't. This film is a lot like him, that way. It can't be taken 100% seriously, and yet you can't just brush it off as a parody, satire or farce. It's in the third direction that stories take on, where epic characters and caricatures inhabit the same space, play off each other, and nobody quite knows how they all ended up together in the same script. It has to be seen to believed, but it will never be understood. Enjoy, and when you're done, please, explain it for the rest of us.
21 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed