JOHNNY GUITAR (1954) 

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Joan Crawford
Sterling Hayden
Mercedes McCambridge
Scott Brady
Ward Bond
Ben Cooper
Ernest Borgnine
John Carradine
Royal Dano
Frank Ferguson

Nicholas Ray



Time: 110 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Western/Action/Romance

A real rarity in the western genre, this film stars two women in the typical "this town ain't big enough for the both of us" gunslinger roles. Crawford, with her usual strength and sex appeal, stars as a saloon keeper forced to fight for her existence against the town "saint" (i.e. largest land owner) and resident bitch on wheels Emma, played by McCambridge, who is filled to the brim with hatred. Of herself for being in love with Dancin' Kid (Brady), an unscrupulous outlaw, and of Vienna (Crawford), who's allowed herself the pleasure of a few nights with him.

Since their mere presence in the vicinity makes Emma's life a living hell of jealousy and longing, she decides to return the favor by blaming all of the local crimes on them with the intention of seeing them both hang. Thus solving her problem permanently. The only trouble is, Vienna has worked too long and hard, sacrificing her body and soul, to give up her business without a fight. Lucky for her, her old lover Johnny (Hayden) has returned to give her a hand. He passes himself off as a musician with no love for fighting, but it soon becomes clear that though he can play his guitar, he's much, much better with a gun.

Tensions escalate, placing Vienna's live on the line, but she refuses to run. The finale is a real nail-biter filled with death, mayhem, betrayal and redemption. The bad guys get what's coming to them, a few good ones pay the ultimate price and Joan has one more chance at true love. Even at 50, Crawford could still pack a punch. This could have been campy, but everyone plays it straight and it works like gangbusters. This is the first time I saw McCambridge and all I can say is "wow". Her character is more mean-spirited and vicious than Hannibal Lector. A film that shows how dangerous sexual frustration can be. A solid effort from all involved that's as romantic as it is suspenseful. A western both men and women can enjoy.

"Down there I sell whiskey and cards. All you can buy up these stairs is a bullet in the head. Now which do you want?"

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