Vienna has a saloon outside of town, and is thoroughly disliked by the townsfolk. When four of Vienna’s friends hold up a stagecoach, the town officials come to the saloon to capture them. She resists with the aid of an old acquaintance, Johnny Guitar.
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Anti-HUAC allegory, subversive feminist Western, luridly stylized Trucolor extravaganza, all of the above? I typically don't care for Westerns, but I'll make an exception for a prime example of Ray's considerable talents and one of the most stunningly transgressive films to ever emerge from the Hollywood studio system.
There are many exceptional moments--the camera movement with Emma through Vienna's doors to the owner, all in white, playing her piano; the backwards track with Emma from the fiery establishment to an overwhelming close-up of the witch; Emma losing her funeral headpiece; the divided spaces within Vienna's casino/saloon--but I sense many dramaturgical issues, problems of narratological shape, & mishandled decoupage.
A cinematic masterwork in every respect. I am surprised how up-to-date the subtext of this classic is: A mob of "worried citizens" in fear for "strangers" is setting fire to the others' properties and wants to lynch people. Pointless violence, combined with lies: It reminds me of the violence against refugees I read about in the newspaper every day.
One of the few Westerns I actually love - from allegorical connection of the local lynch mob to the 'House of un-American Activities' and their McCarthyist Communist witch-hunt, to the progressive gender representation signified by Joan Crawford's powerhouse performance, it is a remarkable feat of 50s cinema.
From the opening scene and onwards, this film is insane. Which means it's also great. Aside from a few scenes in The Searchers, no western has brought such visual punch to the indoor scenes and no American western has such memorable faces Forget the landscapes, come for this bar and have a drink. The villain is also A rate, though oddly empathetic. The political element is just the cherry on top. Probably Ray's best.
Cinematography by Harry Stradling Sr. "Desire" list: in a film where women dominate and are dominant- the love-hate between the powerful Crawford and McCambridge- how to resist to the ballet between Johnny Guitar and Dancing Kid ?, a guitar and a dancer and may confrontation be the food for soul. Sterling Hayden and Scott Brady in the most crepuscular of Ray's, the closest of duos of a literally fantastic four.
An incredibly strange film that wasn't what I was expecting at all. Like all of Ray's films, the imagery is incredible and in this particular film the production design was out of this world. All the acting was great, especially Joan and Sterling. I guess I just can't help but feel like it was about 10 minutes too long, but who am I to argue with Nicolas Ray. The answer to that question is: a nobody.