"Johnny Guitar" Is Released
Johnny Guitar (1954) is a Republic Pictures feature film starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, and Scott Brady in an Old West tale about an Arizona cattle community facing unwanted social and economic changes and a newcomer who challenges the community's dictatorial leaders. The screenplay by Philip Yordan was based upon a novel by Roy Chanslor. The film was directed by Nicholas Ray and produced by Herbert J. Yates. Johnny Guitar was the last feature film produced by Republic Pictures in its Trucolor process. The film has been broadcast on American television, released to VHS and DVD formats, and adapted to musical theater.
In 2008, Johnny Guitar was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
One of the strangest westerns on record, Johnny Guitar has less in common with Zane Grey than it does with Sigmund Freud and Krafft-Ebbing. The title character, played by Sterling Hayden, is a guitar-strumming drifter who was once the lover of Arizona saloon-owner Vienna (Joan Crawford). Though her establishment doesn't make a dime, Vienna doesn't care because the railroad is going to come in soon, bringing a whole slew of thirsty new customers. This puts her at odds with bulldyke rancher Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), who doesn't want any new settlers on her land. Hating Vienna with a purple passion, Emma will do anything to drive her out of the territory...and even worse, Emma's got the law and the other ranchers on her side. Hoping to keep Emma at bay, Vienna hires Johnny Guitar, who unbeknownst to everyone else in town is a notorious gunslinger. But Johnny prefers to bide his time, waiting for Emma to strike before he makes his move. As a result, Vienna endures several life-threatening experiences, culminating with a feverish chase through the Arizona wilds with lynch-happy Emma and her minions in hot pursuit. According to most sources, the animosity between Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge was quite real, added several extra dimensions to their scenes together. Director Nicholas Ray and screenwriter Philip Yordan stuff the film with so much sexual symbolism that one wonders why they left out a train going into a tunnel. Ms. Crawford's vivid red-and-blue wardrobe scheme was later appropriated by Ray for James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause--with equally stunning results. In addition to the stars, Johnny Guitar is well stocked with reliable supporting players, including Ernest Borgnine, Ben Cooper, Royal Dano (superb as a consumptive, book-reading hired gun) and Paul Fix. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide