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Johnny Guitar (reissue)


Stars: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Scott Brady, Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Cooper, John Carradine

Director: Nicholas Ray

One-of-a-kind western featuring (despite the title) female protagonists in Crawford and McCambridge, two of the fiercest performers of their day. And director Ray makes hellishly garish good use of Republic's chocolate-box Trucolor, rarely seen to better advantage.

The plot, although secondary to the undercurrents running through it, stars Crawford as Vienna, saloon queen and according to bigoted townsfolk led by Emma (McCambridge), the brains behind a string of stagecoach robberies.

Vienna's hang-up is Johnny Guitar (Hayden), the ex-lover she hires to play in her saloon. Johnny's hang-up is guns; trying to give them up, he goes berserk when holding one in his hand. Emma's hang-up (besides herself) is gunslinger The Dancin' Kid (Brady), whose own hang-up is Vienna, whom he can see would go back to Johnny at the drop of a guitar.

A posse is organised to give Vienna 24 hours to leave town. But, as Vienna appears at the top of her staircase, Emma wants more. 'Go get her,' she grates,. 'Drag her down.' Vienna has her own riposte for that. 'Down there,' she flashes, 'I sell whisky and cards. All you can buy up here is a bullet in the head.'

Comes the final showdown and everyone concerned decides to let Vienna and Emma get on with it. 'It's what it was all about in the first place,' grumbles posse leader Bond, seeing the light.

Bursting with nervous excitement and tension, this is one of its famous director's best and most distinctive films, decorated with a throbbing theme song by Peggy Lee.

David Quinlan

USA 1954. UK Distributor: Park Circus (originally Republic). Trucolor.
110 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 04 May 2016