Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Johnny Guitar 
Nicholas Rays’s famed Western Johnny Guitar was a strange film, particular given the wide range of themes and tones it tackled. It was a curious mix of political allegory, noirish sensibilities, revisionism, old-fashioned melodrama, romance, straight-up action, psychological thrills, Freudian allusions, and gender politics, among possibly others, but it was foremost a sharp jab at the McCarthy witch-hunts. The titular character (played with quiet verve by Sterling Hayden) is a smooth, guitar-strumming stranger who, with quite a swagger, walks into a hotel owned by Vienna (Joan Crawford), in a town that hates outsiders. As it turns out the town folks, led by the vindictive and acid-spewing Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), who harbours a personal grudge against the alpha-female Vienna, who’s always in masculine costumes, wants to drive her out. Also, as it turns out, Johnny is the former fiancé of Vienna and a legendary gunslinger who is trying to shed his former identity. When a group of four led by the Dancing Kid (Scott Brady), who are falsely under the suspicion of staging hold-ups, rob a bank, Emma shrewdly coaxes the compliant community to head straight for Vienna’s because of a host of complex psychological reasons. The elements of melodrama, loud dialogue spewing, love triangle, and hyper-stylization might dampen the muscular spirit of Westerns for some, the fact that so many things were at play here and the subversive subtexts, in themselves, made this a unique work in the genre worth pondering over. The haunting title song by Peggy Lee was another of its memorable facets.
Director: Nicholas Ray
Genre: Western/Revisionist Western/Romance