Saturday, 21 January 2023

Movie Review: Johnny Guitar (1954)


Genre: Western
Director: Nicholas Ray
Starring: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge
Running Time: 110 minutes

Synopsis: Tough saloon owner Vienna (Joan Crawford) stands to make a good profit by selling her property to the rail company. The mysterious Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) arrives in town just in time to find Vienna locked in a feud with Emma (Mercedes McCambridge) and cattle baron McIvers (Ward Bond). Emma is also Vienna's rival for the affections of the slick Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady), who leads an outlaw gang. Johnny has to decide where to park his loyalties as Vienna is given a deadline to leave town or face the consequences.

What Works Well: This is cerebral western with acidic dialogue exchanges oscillating between icy and steamy, and only rarely interrupted by bursts of action and violence. All the drama is propelled by the ambitions and passions of two headstrong women. Director Nicholas Ray uses patient sequences to delve behind character facades and uncover simmering secrets and psychological hang-ups. Scene staging and framing are often superb, with clever character placements enhanced by vivid colours to underline emotional turmoil. An exuberant Joan Crawford delivers a domineering, larger-than-life performance, which Sterling Hayden counterbalances with a perfectly lackadaisical attitude. John Carradine and Ernest Borgnine further enrich the supporting cast.

What Does Not Work As Well: Even at just 110 minutes, a trim would have sharpened the pacing. The lack of an escape route out of town, presumably due to rock blasting, is far-fetched.

Conclusion: A uniquely compelling western, riveting in both style and content.



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