Studio: Republic Pictures
Running time: 110 minutes
Process: color / mono / widescreen
Director: Nicholas Ray
Stars: Joan Crawford as Vienna
Sterling Hayden as Johnny “Guitar” Logan
Mercedes McCambridge as Emma Small
Scott Brady as Dancin’ Kid
Ward Bond as John McIvers
Ernest Borgnine as Bart Lonergan
Johnny Guitar is a difficult film to describe. American audiences didn’t know what to make of it in 1954. Though it looked and felt like a traditional Western, it was like nothing they had ever seen. The battle of wills was not between two male gunfighters, but rather between two strong women. Joan Crawford starred as a saloon owner who intended to get rich when the railroad came through the town. She dominated all the men around her. Mercedes McCambridge, as her nemesis, was a self-righteous, rich cattle baroness who wanted to run Joan out of town, or if at all possible, string her up, via a lynch mob.
The film was influenced by the European New Wave of independent filmmaking and is dripping with symbolism and subtext.
It also deviates from a lot of traditional Western conventions. For example Mercedes McCambridge and all the lawmen are dressed in black, while Joan Crawford and her band of outlaws are often in bright colors or even white.
Ambiguous, stylized, and containing sexual overtones, Johnny Guitar only came to be respected as a classic upon rediscovery by modern audiences.