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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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.
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.
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.
Nicholas Ray's subversive take on western archetypes. The eye popping use of colour (have you ever seen redder lips), the sexuality of performance and text and the play on gender add up to one bizzare little classic. The homoerotic subtext within is divine especially between Joan Crawford (giving it all she's got) and Mercedes McCambridge. Lack of spark between Hayden and Crawford just adds more to the mix. Wow.
I loved the opening scenes of this film so much, the dialogue just crackles! I liked most of the rest of it but I wasn't too satisfied with the ending. Mercedes McCambridge's performance is bloody brilliant, though.
Is there any other western that is so conscious that the cinematic medium is make-believe? The Western elements are nearly absent, there are more sharp words thrown about than bullets, the tension is more sexual than anything. The political allegory is perfect - in fact, knowing it beforehand makes the film more effective.
All the directors who love this movie are right. Ray's best, most personal film other than IN A LONELY PLACE (I can't decide which I like more). The best and strangest western of the '50s. I'm not a big Crawford fan but she is amazing in this film. The sexuality and politics of this film are way ahead for their time, needless to say.