Johnny Guitar (1954)

The first film I am going to write about is “Johnny Guitar”, a Western released in 1954 by Republic Pictures. It is the complex and yet offbeat story about two women in conflict with each other for what they desire – one wants to keep her home and business alive while the other wants the aforementioned woman to abandon her business for the sake of power and greed. Not to mention, the first lady mentioned has the heart of the man who the second lady wants. The other characters portrayed in this film play vital to displaying who possesses the most power (a numbers game) and ultimately who is driven by good vs greed.

This film has vivid colours and beautiful settings. Some of the acting that can sometimes be viewed as “over the top” by today’s standards. However, Joan Crawford (Vienna) and Mercedes McCambridge (Emma Small) portray their characters splendidly, I thought. They both had to appear “strong and tough” in a man’s world. Ms. Crawford, one of my favourites, was very controlled while in confrontation with her opponent and wanted to appear unshakeable. Ms. McCambridge was more forceful and cutthroat in portraying her character – she embodied greed, revenge, and jealousy. They both wanted to appear unfaltered, but both needed support from their supporting parties (one of whom is the excellent Ernest Borgnine) to achieve their means which leads to the ultimate face-off – survival.

I usually like to analyze the significance of the title to a movie, and this is no exception. Johnny “Guitar” played by Sterling Hayden is the man from Vienna’s past who is hired by her to perform at her saloon. However, it is evident that they both love each other and have never stopped for the past five years. It was interesting to me that Johnny also creates a facade but in the opposite means to Vienna – he appears peaceful in not carrying weapons but is the best shooter you ever did see. He tries to conceal that from Vienna, as she did not approve of his former activities. However, he is the only character who does not use violence and manipulation as a means to an end. It is only at the very end when protection of his and Vienna’s life is necessary that he uses ammunition. Maybe Johnny is an idealized version of the type of person who Vienna embodies and would like to become herself.

Overall, this film stirred up a variety of themes for me as I was watching. These include ambition, love, greed, power, and the unfortunate role that violence still plays in society as a means to an end. As all good movies do, I had many lingering thoughts following the film, but I won’t spoil anything anymore than I have!


I do not own the above image.

6 thoughts on “Johnny Guitar (1954)

  1. Great post 🙂 I love the film’s of Nicholas Ray and Johnny Guitar is my number one favorite of his. Like a lot of his films, this one is ahead of it’s time for how it depicts the female lead as strong and the male co-sign as kind of timid. Speaking of Ray, I will read your Bigger Than Life review and If you are interested, I have a blog entry on my site regarding my favorite films of director Nicholas Ray. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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