MIA On R1 DVD #7: Johnny Guitar

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…

(predicting Madonna!)
…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.

2 Responses to “MIA On R1 DVD #7: Johnny Guitar”

  1. Ryan says:

    Again, I am surprised this is not on DVD. In the 1970s, one of my teachers at Inglemoor High School ran the Rosebud Movie Palace down in Pioneer Square. In an era before home video and most people having cable TV, about the only way to see old movies (other than the Late Show) was revival houses like the Rosebud. In my senior year, part of my responsibilities in the Graphics Arts program was to set the type for his weekly ads that would run in the city’s newspapers. Joan Crawford and Jimmy Stewart movies were frequently featured, and I totally remember setting the copy for “Johnny Guitar” one week. (We had a “Headliner” that used giant plastic wheels for each font and produced them on a strip of white 35mm photographic paper, each letter added one at a time by spinning the wheel, like a giant Dymo.) Boy, takes me back!

  2. Darrell says:

    What a fun teacher! It also sounds like you got to do some reasonably diverting things in H.S.

    There’s still a staggering amount not available on DVD, and thus it will likely always be. Warners is beginning to sell catalog stuff as DVD-Rs made on demand directly rather than replicate/market as proper DVDs. It’s good and it’s bad.

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