Johnny Guitar

Must-See Cinema!

Poster art for Johnny GuitarEmma (McCambridge) has the hots for The Dancing Kid (Brady). The Kid is wild about Vienna (Crawford). But Vienna can’t drive Johnny Guitar (Hayden) out of her head. Ray’s film is not a romantic comedy, but a Western. Or is it? Taking a story about two gutsy, gun-totin’ matriarchs squabbling over the men they love and the ownership of a gambling saloon, Ray plays havoc with Western conventions, revelling in sexual role-reversals, turning funeral gatherings into lynch mobs, and dwelling on a hero who finds inner peace by giving up pacifism and taking up his pistols.

Love and hate, prostitution and frustration, domination and humiliation are woven into a hypnotic Freudian web of shifting relationships, illuminated by the director’s precise, symbolic use of colour, and strung together with an unerring sense of pace. The whole thing is weird, hysterical, and quite unlike anything else in the history of the cowboy film: where else can one find a long-expected shootout between two fast and easy killers averted by a woman’s insistence that they help her prepare breakfast? Crawford and McCambridge are fallen angel and spinster harpy, while Hayden is admirably ambivalent as the quiet saddletramp with a psychopathic temper. Truffaut called the film ‘the Beauty And The Beast of the Western’, a description which perfectly sums up Ray’s magical, dreamlike emotionalism.

– Geoff Andrews, Time Out

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