Johnny Guitar (1954) Film Review B

Johnny Guitar
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Ray
BOTTOM LINE: On the outskirts of a wind-swept Arizona cattle town, an aggressive and strong-willed saloonkeeper named Vienna (Joan Crawford) maintains a volatile relationship with the local cattlemen and townsfolk. Not only does she support the railroad being laid nearby (the cattlemen oppose it), but she permits “The Dancin’ Kid” (her former lover) (Scott Brady) and his gang to frequent her saloon. The locals, led by John McIvers (Ward Bond) and egged on by Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), a one-time rival of Vienna for the Dancin’ Kid’s affections, are determined to force Vienna out of town. Vienna faces them down, helped by the mysterious and just-arrived Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), a guitar player who had an interview scheduled with her that day. McIvers gives Vienna, Johnny Guitar, and the Dancin’ Kid and his sidekicks 24 hours to leave. We know we are facing a showdown, but this one’s between Vienna and Emma, the first all-female duel in the history of the West!
“Johnny Guitar” was adapted from Roy Chanslor’s novel by Philip Yordan, who acted as a front for the poet, documentarist and screenwriter Ben Maddow. Maddow had adapted “Intruder in the Dust” and “The Asphalt Jungle” (Oscar nomination) for MGM before finding himself persona non grata at the studios because of past left-wing affiliations.
A critical and commercial disappointment in America, the film was highly praised in Europe, most notably by then-French film critics Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut in the magazine Cahiers du Cinema. In his 1988 release “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” gay Spanish director Pedro Almodovar paid homage to “Johnny Guitar” in the scene in which his lead character Pepa (Carmen Maura), who is a voice artist, dubbs Joan Crawford’s Vienna in Spanish.

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