Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
|Johnny Guitar is ostensibly a western, starring Miss Joan Crawford as Vienna, owner of a remote bar/casino who is about to see patience pay off when the railroad comes through. The mean local businessmen want to run her off and control all the railroad windfalls for themselves. They run a succession of guns and plots against her.
A western sure, but one stood on it’s head. This is a fight to the death between the two toughest SOBs in town, who both happen to be women. Joan’s mortal enemy is Emma Small, played by Mercedes McCambridge, who for all her foam at the mouth hatred for Vienna also looks to be more than a little in love with her.
Contrast this with the menfolk – Sterling Hayden as a gunslinger who’d rather play guitar in saloons for money is Vienna’s best hope for some backup. Her second-best hope is an outlaw called The Dancing Kid. If the film were any less subtle, these boys would also be big needlepoint enthusiasts.
So, transgressive to be sure, frequently jaw-dropping, and lovingly crafted by Nicholas Ray. And Joan is…well, some sort of elemental being. You could go further down her resume – she ends up much more firmly in the grasp of Gorgonism and parody in things like Queen Bee and Strait Jacket – but I think this is far enough to take a step back and gape at her career. How did this creature…
|…become this creature?|
|I don’t know if Joan’s a great actress or not, but she’s a great something, and Johnny Guitar needs to be readily available on DVD. There’s at least a couple R2 european editions, but my British one is a little sucky, and I don’t think the others are much better. The ball’s in Lionsgate’s court, and they don’t seem remotely interested in hitting it back.|