Johnny Guitar


1h 50m 1954
Johnny Guitar

Brief Synopsis

A lady saloon owner battles a female rancher out to frame her for murder.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Western
Adaptation
Release Date
Aug 23, 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 26 May 1954
Production Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Sedona, Arizona, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Johnny Guitar by Roy Chanslor (New York, 1953).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Trucolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Synopsis

In the 1800s, in Arizona, a reformed gunfighter, who is hiding behind the alias "Johnny Guitar," shows up at an out-of-the-way gambling casino located in an unlikely spot near a sleepy town. The owner, the steely, opportunistic Vienna, built the casino there in anticipation of the construction of a transcontinental railroad and has promised to share her hoped-for fortune with her four loyal employees, Eddie, Frank, Sam and Old Tom. Shortly after Johnny arrives, several vigilante ranchers, led by the venomous Emma Small, ride up and accuse Vienna of being part of a gang that robbed the stagecoach and killed her brother, the town's banker. Although Jenks, the stagecoach driver, is unable to identify the four masked gunmen who held him up, Emma, who did not witness the crime, insists the gang led by the Dancin' Kid, who is Vienna's occasional lover, is reponsible. Because Vienna remains close-mouthed about the Kid and the ranchers feel threatened by the coming of the railroad and Vienna's profiting from it, they are easily roused into greater antagonism against Vienna by Emma's tirades. After tricking the jealous Emma into revealing her unrequited passion for the Kid and her need for irrational revenge, Vienna boldly stands her ground, until the neurotic Emma vows to kill her. The approach of the Kid and his men escalates the tension, which Johnny tries to break by playing the guitar. The Kid grabs Emma for a dance, but Marshal Williams interrupts to question him about the robbery, refusing to believe that the gang has been mining a secret silver lode, as they claim. Williams gives Vienna twenty-four hours to close up and leave town, but Vienna refuses to be forced out and Johnny pledges to assist her, making the Kid jealous. One of his men, Bart Lonergan, picks a fight with the unarmed Johnny, who nevertheless beats the ruffian in a fistfight. After the establishment clears for the night, Vienna discusses her business plans with Johnny, who is an old flame she has secretly asked to help her. Although they broke up five years before, Johnny wants to revive their relationship. However, Vienna claims that the intervening years have taught her not to love and points out the inequities of gender, which allow a man to lie, steal, kill and retain his pride, while labeling a woman a tramp after one slip. The next day in their mountain hideout, the Kid and his gang wonder which of the many outlaw gangs in the area might have robbed the stagecoach. As their mine has petered out, they are anxious to move to California, and reproach the Kid for hanging around because of Vienna. The Kid counters that he hates to run away from something he did not do, but decides to finance their move by robbing the local bank, as they have already been condemned by the town. Meanwhile, Vienna has decided to pay off her employees, including Johnny, and send them away to safety, until the tension in the town dies down. When she goes to the bank to withdraw funds, the Kid's gang shows up and robs it, drawing more suspicion on her. A posse quickly forms, which Emma insists on joining, and they pursue the gang, whose escape is complicated by the dynamiting of the pass by railroad workers. In the chase, the teenaged Turkey Ralston, the youngest member of the Kid's gang, is injured and left behind and, having nowhere else to go, makes his way to Vienna, with whom he is smitten. Old Tom, who has remained behind out of loyalty to Vienna, tries to hide him in the woods, but the posse, urged by Emma, detours there. Although Vienna quickly tries to conceal him, Turkey is soon found. John McIvers, a prosperous rancher in sympathy with Emma, promises Turkey that, if he will confess to Vienna's participation in the gang, they will not hang him. Turkey is reluctant to accuse Vienna falsely, but she tells him to save himself. However, after he tells the posse what they want to hear, McIvers reneges on his promise and the posse, again aroused by Emma's incessant fuming, prepares to hang both Turkey and Vienna. In the following struggle, Williams and Old Tom are shot, and the crazed Emma gleefully sets fire to the building. After Turkey is hanged, none of the men are willing to hang Vienna, even for Emma's generous bribe. Emma attempts the task, but Johnny frees Vienna, and the former lovers hide in the cellar of the burning building. Through a connecting mine shaft, they escape, and the next day show up at the Kid's lair, where they form an uneasy alliance with the gang. However, Turkey's horse soon leads the posse to their hiding place, and Bart betrays his cohorts. As the posse nears, gun fighting commences and most of the gang is killed. Soon, realizing that the fight is really between Vienna and the irrational Emma, the posse loses interest. In a final showdown, Emma and Vienna shoot it out, and Emma is killed. The posse takes the captured Kid and Emma's body down the mountain, followed by Johnny and Vienna, who are now reunited and free.





Film Details

Genre
Drama
Western
Adaptation
Release Date
Aug 23, 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 26 May 1954
Production Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Republic Pictures Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Sedona, Arizona, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Johnny Guitar by Roy Chanslor (New York, 1953).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Trucolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Articles

Johnny Guitar


In the fifties, the Western genre experienced a revitalization that saw new approaches to the form; everything from a film noir interpretation like The Furies (1950) to a psychological thriller like High Noon (1952) to a promotional gimmick like the 3-D Western, Hondo (1953). However, it's safe to say that Johnny Guitar (1954), Nicholas Ray's bold experiment with color, role reversal, stylized sets, and operatic emotions is a one of a kind masterpiece that will never be repeated. Functioning on one level as an anti-McCarthy attack on mob psychology, the film tells the story of Vienna (Joan Crawford), a saloon owner who welcomes the coming of the railroad to her frontier town. A group of community members, led by the enraged Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), oppose the idea and plot to drive Vienna from their community. For protection, Vienna hires a former gunslinger, Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), whom she hasn't seen since they ended their tumultuous relationship five years earlier. Once Johnny arrives, however, emotions run high, aggravated by Vienna's romantic relationship with the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady), an outlaw whose crimes are partially blamed on the female saloon owner.

Produced by Republic Studios, Johnny Guitar was Ray's first project after leaving RKO Studios where he had been under contract for seven years. The film was part of a package that included Roy Chanslor, a former journalist turned screenwriter, who wrote the screenplay especially for Joan Crawford. At the time, Republic was considered the most prestigious of the minor studios and Ray's contract with them gave him a great deal of creative freedom despite the film's modest budget. One of the first things he did was hire Philip Yordan for a complete rewrite of the script. Yordan later said, "He collaborated with me less on the dramatic than the architectural level, creating settings like the saloon, working on the geometrical relationships between places."

Johnny Guitar was filmed on location at Sedona, Arizona, where Republic built a small Western set abutting a cliff. Other scenes were filmed near Oak Creek Canyon, between Phoenix and Sedona, where the rocks have a reddish tint, something Ray captures in his stylized color palette for the film. Many of the supporting actors were veterans of other Western films like Ward Bond, John Carradine, Royal Dano, and Sheb Wooley but Sterling Hayden was an unusual choice for the title role since he didn't know how to ride a horse, play the guitar or shoot a gun. Not that any of that mattered, since the crucial showdown in the film was between Vienna and Emma.

Like their on-screen characters, Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge were fierce rivals on the set as well. Crawford, whose professional jealousy of younger actresses was well known, initiated the feud after she angrily observed the director, cast, and crew applauding Mercedes' scene where she addresses the posse. Ray later admitted, "I should have known some hell was going to break loose." Later that night, an inebriated Joan Crawford was seen by the director stumbling along the highway. In her wake was a long trail of objects that he recognized as costumes and clothing belonging to McCambridge; Crawford had obviously raided the younger actress' dressing room in a drunken rage. The very next day Crawford demanded major changes to the screenplay - favoring her - and had them approved since she was the star of the film. The major revision was an issue over gender. Instead of Johnny Guitar and the Dancin' Kid as the central focus, Vienna and Emma would take center stage in the more traditionally masculine roles.

In her autobiography, The Quality of Mercy, Mercedes McCambridge wrote, "For the scene in which I died....my fall was done by a stunt man, Chuck Wilcox. He looked so funny in a copy of my dreary costume with a frizzy indigo wig. Sterling Hayden said he looked like a mother superior in drag. However, until the moment of the fall, the person on the balcony is me. It is even me crashing backwards through the wooden railing. I did the fall onto a mattress on the ground just a few feet below. Then the camera discovers Chuck, careening crazily to my death way down there in the bottom of the gorge. The reverse angles of that sequence - Miss Crawford's footage - were all shot inside, back at the studio, in the San Fernando Valley."

Director Nicholas Ray was quite unhappy during the filming of Johnny Guitar and later admitted, "Quite a few times, I would have to stop the car and vomit before I got to work in the morning." And his unpleasant memories of the production were only reinforced by the mostly negative reviews the film received from American credits when it opened. The Hollywood Reporter called it "one of the most confused and garrulous outdoor films to hit the screen in some time." Yet, in Europe, Johnny Guitar was greatly admired. Francois Truffaut proclaimed it "the Beauty and the Beast of Westerns" and the film's cult following has grown considerably since its original release, making it one of Ray's most enduring works. No where else in the Western genre will you find a film with such a hallucinatory quality, mixing melancholy lyricism, Freudian psychology, Greek tragedy, romantic melodrama, sexual hysteria and film noir elements in equal parts. br>

Producer: Herbert J. Yates
Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Philip Yordan
Art Direction: James W. Sullivan
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Costume Design: Sheila O'Brien
Film Editing: Richard L. Van Enger
Original Music: Victor Young, Peggy Lee
Principal Cast: Joan Crawford (Vienna), Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar), Mercedes McCambridge (Emma Small), Scott Brady (Dancin' Kid), Ward Bond (John McIvers), Ben Cooper (Turkey Ralston), Ernest Borgnine (Bart Lonergan), John Carradine (Old Tom), Royal Dano (Corey), Paul Fix (Eddie).
C-110m. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford

Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar

In the fifties, the Western genre experienced a revitalization that saw new approaches to the form; everything from a film noir interpretation like The Furies (1950) to a psychological thriller like High Noon (1952) to a promotional gimmick like the 3-D Western, Hondo (1953). However, it's safe to say that Johnny Guitar (1954), Nicholas Ray's bold experiment with color, role reversal, stylized sets, and operatic emotions is a one of a kind masterpiece that will never be repeated. Functioning on one level as an anti-McCarthy attack on mob psychology, the film tells the story of Vienna (Joan Crawford), a saloon owner who welcomes the coming of the railroad to her frontier town. A group of community members, led by the enraged Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), oppose the idea and plot to drive Vienna from their community. For protection, Vienna hires a former gunslinger, Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), whom she hasn't seen since they ended their tumultuous relationship five years earlier. Once Johnny arrives, however, emotions run high, aggravated by Vienna's romantic relationship with the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady), an outlaw whose crimes are partially blamed on the female saloon owner. Produced by Republic Studios, Johnny Guitar was Ray's first project after leaving RKO Studios where he had been under contract for seven years. The film was part of a package that included Roy Chanslor, a former journalist turned screenwriter, who wrote the screenplay especially for Joan Crawford. At the time, Republic was considered the most prestigious of the minor studios and Ray's contract with them gave him a great deal of creative freedom despite the film's modest budget. One of the first things he did was hire Philip Yordan for a complete rewrite of the script. Yordan later said, "He collaborated with me less on the dramatic than the architectural level, creating settings like the saloon, working on the geometrical relationships between places."Johnny Guitar was filmed on location at Sedona, Arizona, where Republic built a small Western set abutting a cliff. Other scenes were filmed near Oak Creek Canyon, between Phoenix and Sedona, where the rocks have a reddish tint, something Ray captures in his stylized color palette for the film. Many of the supporting actors were veterans of other Western films like Ward Bond, John Carradine, Royal Dano, and Sheb Wooley but Sterling Hayden was an unusual choice for the title role since he didn't know how to ride a horse, play the guitar or shoot a gun. Not that any of that mattered, since the crucial showdown in the film was between Vienna and Emma. Like their on-screen characters, Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge were fierce rivals on the set as well. Crawford, whose professional jealousy of younger actresses was well known, initiated the feud after she angrily observed the director, cast, and crew applauding Mercedes' scene where she addresses the posse. Ray later admitted, "I should have known some hell was going to break loose." Later that night, an inebriated Joan Crawford was seen by the director stumbling along the highway. In her wake was a long trail of objects that he recognized as costumes and clothing belonging to McCambridge; Crawford had obviously raided the younger actress' dressing room in a drunken rage. The very next day Crawford demanded major changes to the screenplay - favoring her - and had them approved since she was the star of the film. The major revision was an issue over gender. Instead of Johnny Guitar and the Dancin' Kid as the central focus, Vienna and Emma would take center stage in the more traditionally masculine roles. In her autobiography, The Quality of Mercy, Mercedes McCambridge wrote, "For the scene in which I died....my fall was done by a stunt man, Chuck Wilcox. He looked so funny in a copy of my dreary costume with a frizzy indigo wig. Sterling Hayden said he looked like a mother superior in drag. However, until the moment of the fall, the person on the balcony is me. It is even me crashing backwards through the wooden railing. I did the fall onto a mattress on the ground just a few feet below. Then the camera discovers Chuck, careening crazily to my death way down there in the bottom of the gorge. The reverse angles of that sequence - Miss Crawford's footage - were all shot inside, back at the studio, in the San Fernando Valley." Director Nicholas Ray was quite unhappy during the filming of Johnny Guitar and later admitted, "Quite a few times, I would have to stop the car and vomit before I got to work in the morning." And his unpleasant memories of the production were only reinforced by the mostly negative reviews the film received from American credits when it opened. The Hollywood Reporter called it "one of the most confused and garrulous outdoor films to hit the screen in some time." Yet, in Europe, Johnny Guitar was greatly admired. Francois Truffaut proclaimed it "the Beauty and the Beast of Westerns" and the film's cult following has grown considerably since its original release, making it one of Ray's most enduring works. No where else in the Western genre will you find a film with such a hallucinatory quality, mixing melancholy lyricism, Freudian psychology, Greek tragedy, romantic melodrama, sexual hysteria and film noir elements in equal parts. br> Producer: Herbert J. Yates Director: Nicholas Ray Screenplay: Philip Yordan Art Direction: James W. Sullivan Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr. Costume Design: Sheila O'Brien Film Editing: Richard L. Van Enger Original Music: Victor Young, Peggy Lee Principal Cast: Joan Crawford (Vienna), Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar), Mercedes McCambridge (Emma Small), Scott Brady (Dancin' Kid), Ward Bond (John McIvers), Ben Cooper (Turkey Ralston), Ernest Borgnine (Bart Lonergan), John Carradine (Old Tom), Royal Dano (Corey), Paul Fix (Eddie). C-110m. Closed captioning. by Jeff Stafford

Johnny Guitar - Joan Crawford vs. Mercedes McCambridge in Nicholas Ray's JOHNNY GUITAR


Johnny Guitar, an operatic western centered around two powerful female characters who are more masculine than the men around them, is one of the most unusual westerns of its era, or any era for that matter.

Dense with psychological conflicts and political suggestions, including a not-so-veiled allegory for the McCarthy witch-hunts in Hollywood, which both director Nicholas Ray and screenwriter Philip Yordan have acknowledged was their intention, it is a rich, vivid film directed by an artist at the peak of his powers and one of the most expressive color westerns of all time. And it has been one of the most anticipated DVD releases since the inception of the format.

Made for Republic Pictures, the poor cousin to the dominant Hollywood studios, and designed as a vehicle for Joan Crawford, a once powerful screen superstar whose popularity was in decline but whose talent and business acumen was still in fine form, this is a western as baroque melodrama. Crawford is Vienna, the owner of a saloon and gambling house built on the outskirts of a frontier town. She's staking her claim for her share of the American dream--she chose her location on a tip about the railroad line coming through the area--and the former saloon girl (western movie code for hooker) used the only path available to her to earn her own capital and build her own business without bowing to anyone. She's not ashamed of the road she took but neither is she especially proud of it either. Not that anyone in this film has a particularly proud past. It is past, however, for the Vienna we meet is no saloon girl. She's a businesswoman and a boss and she has the strength and stature to stand up for what is hers, materially and morally. It's not just business, it's her right to lay her stake on the future of the American west.

Vienna faces hostility from the local townsfolk, most of it whipped up by Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), who co-owns the bank with her brother, and rancher John McIvers (Ward Bond). They are, not so coincidentally, the richest and most powerful people around. And when the local stagecoach is robbed and a passenger--Emma's brother, in fact--is killed, a mob arrives at Vienna's saloon and Emma accuses a group of miners led by the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady) of the robbery and Vienna of sheltering the outlaws. There's no evidence, just suspicion and vitriolic hatred. The repressed Emma is attracted to Dancin' Kid (seriously, it isn't just his nickname, it's the only name anyone knows him by) and can't decide if she's more ashamed of her desire of the handsome bad boy or of the fact that Kid has the hots for her rival Vienna. Coupled with the fact that Vienna's prime location positions her to make a fortune when the railroad comes through, it makes for a combustible mixture of animosity and aggression.

That's just the set-up and it this recounting doesn't begin to describe how Ray effectively introduces the characters, the conflicts, and the deep backstories that slowly emerge. In fact, based on the opening scenes, one might assume that the film is really about Johnny Guitar himself, a lanky, affable cowboy played by Sterling Hayden. The film opens with the stage robbery as viewed from afar by Johnny as he rides to the saloon, but when Vienna makes her entrance, stepping out of her private office onto balcony overlooking the floor of the establishment, it's clear who dominates this film. Ray's camera is on high looking down in both shots, but then effect couldn't be more different. Hayden's easy presence merely marks Johnny as a distant, disconnected observer to a crime, unaffected by the event and certainly not driven to get involved. But Vienna, standing strong and tall in jeans, a dark work shirt and a bright kerchief for stylish accent, takes on a commanding presence of the scene with a masculine identity and feminine flourish. Ray's camera, looking down to the bar from Vienna's POV, tells us that she's the boss in every way while Johnny is her employee, her bodyguard, and the love from her past.

The film's dynamic first act occurs almost entirely within the confines of the gaming room of her saloon, with characters arriving, engaging, and exiting in dramatically timely fashion, but the effect is anything but stagebound or theatrical. Ray isolates, reframes, and comments on the shifting stories and conflicts of the story and he paces the action and energy with his editing like a conductor, taking us from the quiet intimacy of individual themes (Johnny and Vienna, Kid and Johnny) to the bold introduction of dramatic movements (the arrival of Emma and the posse) to the complex interplay of all these characters as the floor fills. It is like a piece of music, the provocative first act of a symphony, filled with grace notes in the form of some of the most quotable lines in Ray's career: "Why don't you carry a gun ?"/"Because I'm not the fastest gun west of the Pecos." "Lie to me. Tell me you love me." "I'm a stranger here myself." This last line echoes through Ray's cinema, both verbally and thematically.

While Johnny Guitar doesn't feature the usual brand of western outdoor action spectacle, it is filled with conflict, explosive twists, and violent clashes. Yet through it all, the film keeps the focus resolutely on Vienna's fight to defend her business and herself against the town's disapproval and Emma's ferocious, homicidal campaign to drive Vienna away or, failing that, to kill her. Where Emma spends the rest of the film clad in a black mourning gown, Crawford's Vienna changes costume with practically every scene. It's a Hollywood tradition for female stars, of course, especially when it comes to screen divas of Crawford's stature, but in this case it is a deliberate choice woven into the visual design of the film, every outfit informing a defining aspect of character and her place in the unfolding drama. The most memorable clash of costume and character comes as Emma, leading a lynch mob her black dress, confronts Vienna, clad in a soft, white, elegant gown while playing the saloon's piano: the dark, angry fairy tale witch taking on the innocent heroine. The symbolic imagery only compounds when Vienna sets the place on fire and practically dances in triumph, a black figure against the bright flames. Symbolism aside, the scene burns deep and hot with rage and revenge unleashed.

In addition to the fine leads already mentioned, Johnny Guitar features a superb supporting cast carving out memorable characters from the mob. John Carradine brings dignity to the role of Old Tom, the amiable town drunk that Vienna looks after and keeps around to sweep up, and the loyalty and devotion he communicates is a profound as it is quietly underplayed. Ernest Borgnine plays another of the tough, bullying thugs that defined his career at the time and Ben Cooper (playing a character nicknamed Turkey) is another of the weak-willed teenagers that fascinated Ray so, a kid trying to prove himself a man but failing to stand up when his character is put on the line. And Royal Dano is superb as the consumptive Corey, whose weak body is balanced with a strong will and sense of loyalty. The simple but evocative contradictions of these minor characters reflect the more complex contradictions and conflicts in the central players of the drama.

Johnny Guitar is one of Nicholas Ray's greatest films, a standout film in a career filled with such classics as They Live By Night (1949), In A Lonely Place (1950), On Dangerous Ground (1952), Bigger Than Life (1956), and his most famous film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and the richness of the film can be traced back to Ray, who drastically reworked the original screenplay with screenwriter Philip Yordan and even managed to incorporate the demands made by Crawford into defining elements of the character of Vienna. Ray creates a story so compelling and an experience so engrossing that only in retrospect do you realize how radical a vision it is.

Never before released on DVD, Johnny Guitar makes its digital disc debut on both Blu-ray and DVD by Olive in their new licensing deal with Paramount to release the Republic Picture library (previously licensed to Lionsgate). Most of these releases are without supplements and produced from masters created by Paramount itself. This disc features a single supplement, a video introduction by Martin Scorsese recorded for the film's VHS release twenty years ago or so.

As with previous Paramount releases through Olive, the company is using Paramount's own digital masters, which have been remastered in high definition. Johnny Guitar is released at 1.33:1 Academy ratio, though Variety listed the production as 1.66:1. The Academy format is the same framing as all previous home video releases and it looks fine, though it would have been nice to offer the OAR. It is otherwise a very good transfer, with solid, deep color and film texture, from a fine-grain 35mm print.

For more information about Johnny Guitar, visit Olive Films.

by Sean Axmaker

Johnny Guitar - Joan Crawford vs. Mercedes McCambridge in Nicholas Ray's JOHNNY GUITAR

Johnny Guitar, an operatic western centered around two powerful female characters who are more masculine than the men around them, is one of the most unusual westerns of its era, or any era for that matter. Dense with psychological conflicts and political suggestions, including a not-so-veiled allegory for the McCarthy witch-hunts in Hollywood, which both director Nicholas Ray and screenwriter Philip Yordan have acknowledged was their intention, it is a rich, vivid film directed by an artist at the peak of his powers and one of the most expressive color westerns of all time. And it has been one of the most anticipated DVD releases since the inception of the format. Made for Republic Pictures, the poor cousin to the dominant Hollywood studios, and designed as a vehicle for Joan Crawford, a once powerful screen superstar whose popularity was in decline but whose talent and business acumen was still in fine form, this is a western as baroque melodrama. Crawford is Vienna, the owner of a saloon and gambling house built on the outskirts of a frontier town. She's staking her claim for her share of the American dream--she chose her location on a tip about the railroad line coming through the area--and the former saloon girl (western movie code for hooker) used the only path available to her to earn her own capital and build her own business without bowing to anyone. She's not ashamed of the road she took but neither is she especially proud of it either. Not that anyone in this film has a particularly proud past. It is past, however, for the Vienna we meet is no saloon girl. She's a businesswoman and a boss and she has the strength and stature to stand up for what is hers, materially and morally. It's not just business, it's her right to lay her stake on the future of the American west. Vienna faces hostility from the local townsfolk, most of it whipped up by Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), who co-owns the bank with her brother, and rancher John McIvers (Ward Bond). They are, not so coincidentally, the richest and most powerful people around. And when the local stagecoach is robbed and a passenger--Emma's brother, in fact--is killed, a mob arrives at Vienna's saloon and Emma accuses a group of miners led by the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady) of the robbery and Vienna of sheltering the outlaws. There's no evidence, just suspicion and vitriolic hatred. The repressed Emma is attracted to Dancin' Kid (seriously, it isn't just his nickname, it's the only name anyone knows him by) and can't decide if she's more ashamed of her desire of the handsome bad boy or of the fact that Kid has the hots for her rival Vienna. Coupled with the fact that Vienna's prime location positions her to make a fortune when the railroad comes through, it makes for a combustible mixture of animosity and aggression. That's just the set-up and it this recounting doesn't begin to describe how Ray effectively introduces the characters, the conflicts, and the deep backstories that slowly emerge. In fact, based on the opening scenes, one might assume that the film is really about Johnny Guitar himself, a lanky, affable cowboy played by Sterling Hayden. The film opens with the stage robbery as viewed from afar by Johnny as he rides to the saloon, but when Vienna makes her entrance, stepping out of her private office onto balcony overlooking the floor of the establishment, it's clear who dominates this film. Ray's camera is on high looking down in both shots, but then effect couldn't be more different. Hayden's easy presence merely marks Johnny as a distant, disconnected observer to a crime, unaffected by the event and certainly not driven to get involved. But Vienna, standing strong and tall in jeans, a dark work shirt and a bright kerchief for stylish accent, takes on a commanding presence of the scene with a masculine identity and feminine flourish. Ray's camera, looking down to the bar from Vienna's POV, tells us that she's the boss in every way while Johnny is her employee, her bodyguard, and the love from her past. The film's dynamic first act occurs almost entirely within the confines of the gaming room of her saloon, with characters arriving, engaging, and exiting in dramatically timely fashion, but the effect is anything but stagebound or theatrical. Ray isolates, reframes, and comments on the shifting stories and conflicts of the story and he paces the action and energy with his editing like a conductor, taking us from the quiet intimacy of individual themes (Johnny and Vienna, Kid and Johnny) to the bold introduction of dramatic movements (the arrival of Emma and the posse) to the complex interplay of all these characters as the floor fills. It is like a piece of music, the provocative first act of a symphony, filled with grace notes in the form of some of the most quotable lines in Ray's career: "Why don't you carry a gun ?"/"Because I'm not the fastest gun west of the Pecos." "Lie to me. Tell me you love me." "I'm a stranger here myself." This last line echoes through Ray's cinema, both verbally and thematically. While Johnny Guitar doesn't feature the usual brand of western outdoor action spectacle, it is filled with conflict, explosive twists, and violent clashes. Yet through it all, the film keeps the focus resolutely on Vienna's fight to defend her business and herself against the town's disapproval and Emma's ferocious, homicidal campaign to drive Vienna away or, failing that, to kill her. Where Emma spends the rest of the film clad in a black mourning gown, Crawford's Vienna changes costume with practically every scene. It's a Hollywood tradition for female stars, of course, especially when it comes to screen divas of Crawford's stature, but in this case it is a deliberate choice woven into the visual design of the film, every outfit informing a defining aspect of character and her place in the unfolding drama. The most memorable clash of costume and character comes as Emma, leading a lynch mob her black dress, confronts Vienna, clad in a soft, white, elegant gown while playing the saloon's piano: the dark, angry fairy tale witch taking on the innocent heroine. The symbolic imagery only compounds when Vienna sets the place on fire and practically dances in triumph, a black figure against the bright flames. Symbolism aside, the scene burns deep and hot with rage and revenge unleashed. In addition to the fine leads already mentioned, Johnny Guitar features a superb supporting cast carving out memorable characters from the mob. John Carradine brings dignity to the role of Old Tom, the amiable town drunk that Vienna looks after and keeps around to sweep up, and the loyalty and devotion he communicates is a profound as it is quietly underplayed. Ernest Borgnine plays another of the tough, bullying thugs that defined his career at the time and Ben Cooper (playing a character nicknamed Turkey) is another of the weak-willed teenagers that fascinated Ray so, a kid trying to prove himself a man but failing to stand up when his character is put on the line. And Royal Dano is superb as the consumptive Corey, whose weak body is balanced with a strong will and sense of loyalty. The simple but evocative contradictions of these minor characters reflect the more complex contradictions and conflicts in the central players of the drama. Johnny Guitar is one of Nicholas Ray's greatest films, a standout film in a career filled with such classics as They Live By Night (1949), In A Lonely Place (1950), On Dangerous Ground (1952), Bigger Than Life (1956), and his most famous film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and the richness of the film can be traced back to Ray, who drastically reworked the original screenplay with screenwriter Philip Yordan and even managed to incorporate the demands made by Crawford into defining elements of the character of Vienna. Ray creates a story so compelling and an experience so engrossing that only in retrospect do you realize how radical a vision it is. Never before released on DVD, Johnny Guitar makes its digital disc debut on both Blu-ray and DVD by Olive in their new licensing deal with Paramount to release the Republic Picture library (previously licensed to Lionsgate). Most of these releases are without supplements and produced from masters created by Paramount itself. This disc features a single supplement, a video introduction by Martin Scorsese recorded for the film's VHS release twenty years ago or so. As with previous Paramount releases through Olive, the company is using Paramount's own digital masters, which have been remastered in high definition. Johnny Guitar is released at 1.33:1 Academy ratio, though Variety listed the production as 1.66:1. The Academy format is the same framing as all previous home video releases and it looks fine, though it would have been nice to offer the OAR. It is otherwise a very good transfer, with solid, deep color and film texture, from a fine-grain 35mm print. For more information about Johnny Guitar, visit Olive Films. by Sean Axmaker

Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2004)


Veteran character actress Mercedes McCambridge, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for All the King's Men, and later provided the scary voice of a demon-possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist, died from natural causes on March 2 in a rest home in San Diego. She was 87.

She was born Charlotte Mercedes McCambridge on March 16, 1916, in Joliet, Illinois. After graduation from Mundelein College in Chicago, she acted in local radio, doing everything from children's programs to soap operas. By the early '40s, she relocated to New York, where her powerful voice kept her busy as one of the top radio actresses of her day, including a stint with Orson Wells' radio dramas.

In the late '40s she appeared successfully in several Broadway productions, and this led a call from Hollywood. In her film debut, she was cast as Broderick Crawford's scheming mistress in All the King's Men (1949) and won an Oscar® for her fine performance.

Despite her strong start, McCambridge's film roles would be very sporadic over the years. Her strengths were her husky voice, square build, and forthright personae, not exactly qualities for an ingenue. Instead, McCambridge took interesting parts in some quirky movies: playing a self-righteous church leader opposite Joan Crawford in one of the cinema's great cult Westerns, Nicholas Ray's kinky Johnny Guitar (1954); a key role as Rock Hudson's sister in George Stevens' epic Giant (1956, a second Oscar® nomination), and as a gang leader in Orson Wells' magnificent noir thriller Touch of Evil (1958).

By the '60s, McCambridge's career was hampered by bouts of alcoholism, and apart for her voice work as the demon in William Friedkin's The Exorcist(1973, where the director cruelly omitted her from the credits before the Screen Actors Guild intervened and demanded that she receive proper recognition), the parts she found toward the end of her career were hardly highpoints. Some fairly forgettable films: Thieves (1977), The Concorde - Airport '79 (1979) and guest roles in some routine television shows such as Charlie's Angels and Cagney & Lacey were all she could find before quietly retiring from the screen.

It should be noted that McCambridge finished her career on a high note, when in the early '90s, Neil Simon asked her to play the role of the grandmother in Lost in Yonkers on Broadway. Her return to the New York stage proved to be a great success, and McCambridge would perform the play for a phenomenal 560 performances. They were no surviving family members at the time of her death.

by Michael T. Toole

Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2004)

Veteran character actress Mercedes McCambridge, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for All the King's Men, and later provided the scary voice of a demon-possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist, died from natural causes on March 2 in a rest home in San Diego. She was 87. She was born Charlotte Mercedes McCambridge on March 16, 1916, in Joliet, Illinois. After graduation from Mundelein College in Chicago, she acted in local radio, doing everything from children's programs to soap operas. By the early '40s, she relocated to New York, where her powerful voice kept her busy as one of the top radio actresses of her day, including a stint with Orson Wells' radio dramas. In the late '40s she appeared successfully in several Broadway productions, and this led a call from Hollywood. In her film debut, she was cast as Broderick Crawford's scheming mistress in All the King's Men (1949) and won an Oscar® for her fine performance. Despite her strong start, McCambridge's film roles would be very sporadic over the years. Her strengths were her husky voice, square build, and forthright personae, not exactly qualities for an ingenue. Instead, McCambridge took interesting parts in some quirky movies: playing a self-righteous church leader opposite Joan Crawford in one of the cinema's great cult Westerns, Nicholas Ray's kinky Johnny Guitar (1954); a key role as Rock Hudson's sister in George Stevens' epic Giant (1956, a second Oscar® nomination), and as a gang leader in Orson Wells' magnificent noir thriller Touch of Evil (1958). By the '60s, McCambridge's career was hampered by bouts of alcoholism, and apart for her voice work as the demon in William Friedkin's The Exorcist(1973, where the director cruelly omitted her from the credits before the Screen Actors Guild intervened and demanded that she receive proper recognition), the parts she found toward the end of her career were hardly highpoints. Some fairly forgettable films: Thieves (1977), The Concorde - Airport '79 (1979) and guest roles in some routine television shows such as Charlie's Angels and Cagney & Lacey were all she could find before quietly retiring from the screen. It should be noted that McCambridge finished her career on a high note, when in the early '90s, Neil Simon asked her to play the role of the grandmother in Lost in Yonkers on Broadway. Her return to the New York stage proved to be a great success, and McCambridge would perform the play for a phenomenal 560 performances. They were no surviving family members at the time of her death. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

There's only two things in this world that a 'real man' needs: a cup of coffee and a good smoke.
- Johnny
I didn't get your name stranger.
- Kid
Guitar. Johnny Guitar.
- Johnny
You call that a name?
- Kid
Care to try and change it?
- Johnny
I like you, Guitar Man. How'd you like to work for me?
- Kid
I wouldn't.
- Johnny
Now all of a sudden I don't like you.
- Kid
Now that makes me real sad.
- Johnny
How many men have you forgotten?
- Johnny
As many women as you've remembered.
- Vienna
Don't go away.
- Johnny
I haven't moved.
- Vienna
Tell me something nice.
- Johnny
You're nothing but a railroad tramp.
- Emma

Trivia

Actresses Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge fought both on and off camera. One night, in a druken rage, Crawford scattered the costumes worn by McCambridge along an Arizona highway. Cast and crew had to collect the outfits.

The scene where the horses rode near a waterfall were filmed used blinders. The horses were so afraid of the waterfalls, they had to wear blinders on their eyes or they would never go near the water.

Joan Crawford insisted on her close-ups only being filmed in the studio where the lighting could be rigidly controlled. So no close-up of her was ever shot while on location.

Notes

The opening title cards read: "Herbert J. Yates presents Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar Trucolor by Consolidated." Although Nicholas Ray served as both producer and director of the film, he is credited onscreen only as director. According to an April 1954 Daily Variety news item, Ray felt he should have been credited as full producer, as he considered Republic's standard associate producer billing an "office boy equivalent." When Republic refused to budge from its crediting policy, Ray insisted that his billing as producer be completely dropped.
       According to a modern source, Crawford bought the film rights to the novel Johnny Guitar, and sold them to Republic with the provision that she would star in the picture. Modern sources state that Crawford, in her first Western since M-G-M's 1930 release Modern Moon, wanted Claire Trevor to play the part of "Emma" and was jealous of the younger, competitive Mercedes McCambridge. Modern sources add that newspapers played up the rivalry, and Ray used the women's mutual antagonism to spark their performances.
       According to the Motion Picture Herald review, portions of the film were shot around Sedona, AZ. The Motion Picture Herald review also noted that the title song by Victor Young and Peggy Lee was not the popular song of the same name that was being heard on the radio at the time of the film's release. Johnny Guitar has become a cult favorite in some circles of film scholarship, because of its unique role-reversing of the standard Western.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1996

Released in United States June 16, 1990

Released in United States June 1989

Released in United States March 1976

Released in United States March 1980

Released in United States May 1954

Released in United States Summer August 23, 1954

Shown at Film Forum in New York City June 3 & 4, 1989.

Shown at London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival March 21 - April 4, 1996.

Released in United States 1996 (Shown at London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival March 21 - April 4, 1996.)

Released in United States March 1976 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The 48-Hour Cowboy Movie Marathon) March 18-31, 1976.)

Released in United States Summer August 23, 1954

Released in United States June 16, 1990 (Shown at New York International Festival of Lesbian and Gay Film in New York City June 16, 1990.)

Released in United States March 1980 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (FilmEssay: Behind the Emulsion) March 4-21, 1980.)

Released in United States June 1989 (Shown at Film Forum in New York City June 3 & 4, 1989.)

Released in United States May 1954

Shown at New York International Festival of Lesbian and Gay Film in New York City June 16, 1990.