Johnny Guitar

Screening on Film
Directed by Nicholas Ray.
With Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge.
US, 1954, 35mm, color, 110 min.
Print source: Paramount Pictures

Ray’s second color film marks an important turning point in his career toward the blatantly stylized, melodramatic style that would become his trademark and calling card. A terrifically hardened, masculine Joan Crawford balances a chip on her shoulder pads as saloonkeeper Vienna, locked in a passionate battle of wills with Mercedes McCambridge’s malicious, rageful cattle baron. Ray’s vision of the barely-civilized West reads as a graphic allegory for the Communist witch hunts that were winnowing careers in Hollywood, with a blood-thirsty lynch mob standing in for McCarthy and his cohorts. With its primal emotions, pointedly unrealistic sets, brilliant dialogue by Philip Yordan, electric use of color and unconcealed sexual tension, Johnny Guitar is, together with Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious, one of Hollywood’s strangest Westerns, and a delirious high point in Ray’s idiosyncratic career.

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