Nicholas Ray (director)
110 min (length)
20 September 2021 (released)
16 September 2021
Nicholas Ray directed this highly unusal Western from 1954 which break away from all the typical stereotypes. It flopped in the US after its world premiere while in Europe the film, in which two strong-willed women are the centre of the action as opposed to usual macho cowboys like John Wayne, was hailed a success.
Joan Crawford is the headstrong and aggressive Vienna who rules her saloon on the outskirts of a small town in Arizona with an iron fist although it would be fair to say she is tolerated by the local ranchers and residents rather than liked. In contrast to most other citizens, including John McIvers (Ward Bond), Vienna is in favour of the construction of a new railway to be built across the district as she can expect a large amount of compensation from the railway company. Regular bar goers include 'The Dancin Kid' (Scott Brady) - a former lover of Vienna’s - plus helping hand Old Tom (John Carradine). Soon dark clouds gather when archenemy Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge) accuses Vienna of hiding ‘Dancin Kid’ (who apparently shot her brother during a bungled robbery) in her saloon. The truth lies much deeper though because Emma who isn’t exactly a beauty (neither was middle-aged Crawford whose garish make up made her look like a mask) is secretly in love with Kid but realising her feelings won’t be reciprocated she’s hell-bent on revenge! Together with her posse including McIvers and Bart Lonergan (Ernest Borgnine) Emma won’t leave a stone unturned in making life a misery for Vienna who in turn coldly observes: “One of us will have to die. I’ll make sure it’s going to be you!”
The unexpected arrival of the mysterious Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), also was a past lover of Vienna, soon turns the overall situation into an even more precarious one… never mind the rivalry between him and the Dancin Kid over Vienna… things soon get out of hand and when Emma assembles an almighty lynch mob it leads to unfortunate and unforeseen consequences which only some of the main players will survive…
JOHNNY GUITAR is undoubtedly Crawfords' film and she demanded entire passages of the script had to be rewritten. The film itself is based on Roy Chanslor’s novel of the same name who had penned the story with Crawford in mind before a screen adaptation was even considered. The fact that Crawford and McCambridge couldn't stand each other off-camera makes the on-screen hostility between the two actresses even more authentic though it also contributed to director Nicholas Ray suffering a near breakdown and claiming that he’d never want to see Crawford again once the film was under wraps! He didn’t! Nonetheless and despite all the behind-the-scenes drama Ray delivered a superb Western that looks unusual (did you ever see a saloon where one part of the premises is built against the rock of a canyon?) and also offers a plot that’s miles apart from the usual predictable Wild West fare. Even the colour code changes from scene to scene and is symbolic.
JOHNNY GUITAR is presented newly restored on Blu-ray as a Limited Edition Set of only 3000 copies presented in a hardbound slipcase and a 60-page collector’s booklet. Further Bonus Material includes essays, interviews, audio commentary and an intro to the film by director Martin Scorsese.