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Joan Crawford as Vienna in Nicholas Ray’s JOHNNY GUITAR, 1954

JOHNNY GUITAR

Nicholas Rey, 1954

Joan Crawford as Vienna, Mercedes McCambridge as Emma and Sterling Hayden as “Johnny Guitar” 

Emma: “I’m going to kill you.”
Vienna: “I know. If I don’t kill you first.”

Perhaps the strangest Hollywood Western ever made. Is it a cleverly disguised metaphor for the horrors of the McCarthy Era or an early peek into the taboo of lesbians on the wild frontier? Some sort of trouble brewing in JOHNNY GUITAR

From a typical over-the-top-of-the-Hollywood-Sign performance by Joan Crawford – who seems twice “the man” of any male character in the movie to the Actors Studio Turn of Mercedes McCambridge seething with both anger/lust for Joan Crawford’s character.

Mercedes McCambridge giving all the confused and angry lesbian subtext she can muster as Emma in JOHNNY GUITAR

From the the “oddly” soft performances and lines of the male characters to the almost surreal back-drop of the walls of Joan Crawford’s salon.

I believe the saloon is meant to be built into the earth, but the purposely fake set looks suspiciously yonic. Which of course brings a whole new concept of “eating scenery” — especially for Ms. Crawford. 

Joan Crawford barely notices the strumming of Johnny and he does not seem to mind…

Johnny: “There’s only two things in this world that a REAL MAN NEEDS a man NEEDS in this world: a cup of coffee and a good smoke…”

(hmmm….)

A solid wall between Mr. Guitar and Vienna in JOHNNY GUITAR

Whatever – you will never get bored watching JOHNNY GUITAR…

JOHNNY GUITAR: Certainly Art. Certainly Strange. Certainly Entertaining. But, what does it all mean?

Olive Films has finally issued a remastered print of JOHNNY GUITAR on Blu-Ray which features an introduction by Martin Scorsese. An endlessly interesting twist of a Hollywood Western. 

Matty Stanfield

August/2012

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