Sep 12, 201204:06 PMThe Telegraph
The Premier Blog of the West
Off The Beaten Trail: ‘Johnny Guitar’ Debuts On Blu-Ray
There are few notable westerns that never found their way to DVD, but one of them was Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954). There were foreign DVD releases, and a VHS version back in the days when there were video stores in every shopping center, but the title has otherwise been MIA from the home video market.
One can only speculate why Johnny Guitar was not more widely available – but I would guess it was deemed too peculiar for traditional western audiences, while being too western for those who embrace edgier cinema.
Last month, however, the film was finally released on Blu-Ray, complete with a new introduction by Martin Scorsese.
Sterling Hayden plays the title character, an aging gunfighter looking to settle down, but the movie belongs to Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge. Crawford’s Vienna is an ex-showgirl turned owner of a popular Arizona saloon. McCambridge, as Emma, blames Vienna and her sweetheart, the Dancin’ Kid, for the death of her brother, and has made closing the saloon her personal vendetta.
The film was not a hit but quickly became a cult favorite, first among French cinephiles who admire all of Ray’s work, and then among audiences that see Freudian symbolism in its locales. There are also those who find parallels between the persecution of Vienna and the Communist-hunting McCarthyism of that era.
Whether one sees deeper significance or not, Johnny Guitar is undeniably entertaining, particularly in its tough-talking dialogue between two female characters, which is certainly a rarity in a western:
Emma: “That’s big talk for a little gun – you can’t shoot all of us.”
Vienna: “Two of you will do.”
Emma: “You don’t have the nerve.”
Vienna: “Try me.”
You can feel the heat in these confrontations, which were escalated by the fact the both actresses couldn’t stand each other. At one point Ray took to shooting McCambridge’s scenes early in the morning before Crawford arrived. McCambridge later claimed that Crawford destroyed all the costumes in her dressing room (maybe they were on wire hangers?), and had her blacklisted from the movie business for more than two years.