Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday Westerns: Johnny Guitar

Welcome a new weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. In an effort to provide a look back at older films and a desire to highlight a specific genre, I will be spotlighting a Western film each week, combining films from a course I took while at NYU called Myth of the Last Western and other films I have seen and do see. If you have a Western you’d like to write about, please let me know and feel free to submit a guest spot for future weeks!

Johnny Guitar
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Released May 27, 1954

If no can match the screen presence of John Wayne, then Joan Crawford probably comes the closest. This somewhat atypical Western puts a woman at the forefront of the action, despite what the title would suggest. Crawford’s Vienna stands strong as the owner of a casino whose establishment is constantly threatened by the unhappy locals who want her gone. The film does a magnificent job of capturing the isolationist nature of some Western films, as Vienna continues to wait for her business to start booming when the railroad is finally finished and travelers can reach the town. The sense of lawlessness in the West is rampant, as Vienna isn’t even safe within the confines of her own home and place of business. Villainy is well represented in the character of Emma Small, fiercely and brilliant portrayed by Mercedes McCambridge, who won an Oscar five years earlier for her debut performance in “All the King’s Men.” Emma makes for a perfect nemesis for the hard-headed Vienna, and watching the two of them interact makes for some of the best scenes in the film. There’s also the Dancin’ Kid, a troublemaker pursued into the mountains by the locals fed up with his criminal ways, and Johnny Guitar himself, a humorously sedated and old-fashioned fellow packing quite a punch. Also look out for token Western henchman Ernest Borgnine, who, at the age of ninety-four, is still working fifty-seven years after the release of this film, with three movies on tap for 2011 already. I couldn’t locate a proper trailer of the film, so instead I present the opening titles embedded above, and click on the video to be taken to YouTube to watch the entire movie.

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