"I should have had my head examined. No excuse for a picture being this bad or me making it." ~ Joan Crawford on
"Johnny Guitar" 1954
Cast: Joan Crawford ~Sterling Hayden~Mercedes McCambridge~Scott Brady~Ward Bond~Ben Cooper~Ernest Borgnine~John Carradine~Royal
Dano~Frank Ferguson~Paul Fix~Rhys Williams~Ian MacDonald.
Director: Nicholas Ray
Producer: Herbert J. Yates
Costumes by Shelia O'Brien
Box Office Figures for "Johnny Guitar":
Top Grossing Film Position: Ranked #41 out of 163 films.
Gross Rentals: $2,500,000.
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Stars: 5 star
Review: This is one of Miss Crawford first western movies and I really enjoy, Joan as Vienna and Sterling Hayden as Johnny
Guitar and Mercades McCambridge as Emma. This has to be a great movie for all action western fans. Vienna is my one of my
favorite Crawford roles.
Stars: Four out of four stars
Review: "Johnny Guitar" is a Nicholas Ray western that has developed a cult folllowing, gaining its earliest
avid appreciation in Europe among the New Wave directors like Francoise Truffaut and Americans like Martin Scorcese. Although
not one of my favorite Joan Crawford films and although never particularly drawn to westerns, in general, "Johnny Guitar"
is distinguished by several fascinating factors -- one being style, including creative use of color (Tru-Color was the method
used, unnaturally vibrant and saturated) and the rhythm of scenes, and the other being the non-traditional gender roles and
situations. Women here are in power and the men, by and large, although comprised of many "western" stereotypes
like "the kid" and the strong, enigmatic and silent stranger (think "Shane"), essentially defer to them.
Crawford plays Vienna, the owner of a casino (supposedly won brick by brick through sexual favors, or so it is implied),
who is maintaining her hold on a boomtown that promises greater expansion with the upcoming railroad. Her nemesis Mercedes
Cambridge is Emma who loves the Dancing Kid and despises Vienna for having romanced him and also for supposedly being involved
in a stagecoach robbery that took the life of Emma's brother. The hatred between the two women, which extended off-screen,
is palpable, contributing an intense psycho-sexual drama to the plot. Crawford was beginning to take on her harsher "steel
rose" look at this point, her lips done up in her mid-career signature red "smear" and with the film's saturated
color, they do seem to leap from the screen. Like McCambridge, she, as a formidable force in a one-horse town, has taken
on an appropriately "butch" look with short hair and is often shot from low angles. Without her usual high heels,
she is tiny, but nonetheless mighty, her stance dominant in typical cowboy fashion, a holster slung around her hips. Exteriors
show wide vistas of clay mountains in shades of rust and burnt orange, and interiors are steeped in the same clay colors with
green and red, giving everything a rustic look. The characters wear colors significantly, too, with Emma and "boys"
in, as Vienna puts it, "funeral colors" (black), as Vienna sports a flowing white dress when her enemies come to
confront her. Johnny Guitar nee Johnny Logan (Sterling Hayden) is Vienna's former lover, come to town to help her against
her adversaries; once a sure shot, he has traded in guns for a guitar. He wears pink.
Incredible scenes here include the conversation between Crawford and Hayden when they discuss their relationship, which
is orchestrated to a sublime and perfect pitch. The dialogue below had me jumping in my seat in glee. The pair have completely
exchanged a-typical gender dialogue; with Hayden's goofy sincerity and Crawford's steely detachment, it's a hoot:
Johnny: Don't go away.
Vienna: I haven't moved.
Johnny: Tell me something nice.
Vienna: Sure, what do you want to hear?
Johnny: Lie to me. Tell me all these years you've waited. Tell me.
Vienna: All those years I've waited.
Johnny: Tell me you'd a-died if I hadn't come back.
Vienna: I woulda died if you hadn't come back.
Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.
Vienna: I still love you like you love me.
Johnny: Thanks. Thanks a lot.
The plot builds in intensity as the undesirables are targeted and intimidated, interpreted by many as an allegory for
the McCarthy hearings in which fear of communism led to witch burning hysteria and testimony. To add to the oddness, the
film culminates in a romantic clinch between Crawford and Hayden as Peggy Lee sings on the soundtrack. Not for all tastes
perhaps, but definitely one of a kind and audacious.