I was hoping to attend a screening of JOHNNY GUITAR (1954) tonight at the Egyptian Theatre, but between rain and a heavy workday I decided to take it easy and skip the drive to Hollywood -- especially as I've spent the last four Thursday evenings traveling to various events in the Greater L.A. area!
I'd never seen JOHNNY GUITAR before so I did the next best thing and watched the Olive Films DVD on our biggest TV set, for as close to a "cinematic" experience as possible.
I think my head is still spinning as I try to fathom what I just watched. An incredibly gorgeous film on a beautiful DVD, with a haunting musical score...but yes, that movie was as odd as I'd heard. It was mesmerizing, even as I kept thinking "What on earth?" The movie struck me as rather like a dream, where everything's heightened and a little off-kilter. It feels as though everyone involved knows they're doing something offbeat but they just collectively shrugged and decided to go for it!
An assortment of vivid characters make their way to Vienna's in a dust storm, starting with Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), who's been hired to entertain; Marshal Williams (Frank Ferguson), McIvers (Ward Bond), and Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), who blame Vienna for the death of Emma's brother; and the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady), who might be an outlaw. The mere mention of the Dancin' Kid sends the repressed Emma into a tizzy. Before it's all over Vienna will be accused of helping the Kid pull off a bank robbery, a development accompanied by shooutouts, a fire, and a lynching.
Harry Stradling, and most beautiful of all, the sparkling river. (Alas, how did those awful fake backgrounds behind Crawford and Hayden work their way into the final sequence?)
FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955), I'll never understand the concept of the '50s Joan Crawford as someone men go crazy for -- in this case two men! -- but there's no denying that Crawford is a compelling screen presence. It's a shame the same can't be said for her rival in the film; Emma is supposed to be obnoxiously annoying, but frankly I've always found McCambridge a bore and this film didn't change my mind. Crawford and McCambridge play roles that typically would be played by men, their animosity driving the film's action.
One of the movie's pleasures is the great supporting cast; I loved the shots which capture Bond, Ferguson, and Paul Fix all on screen at the same time. Those men represent so much great movie history; added together, the three men's IMDb credits total over 900 titles!
JOHNNY GUITAR was directed by Nicholas Ray. It runs 110 minutes.
The evocative score was by the great Victor Young; Young cowrote the title song with Peggy Lee, who sings it at the end of the movie.
JOHHNY GUITAR is a unique film which gives the viewer much to think about while also presenting a visual feast. Definitely worth checking out.
October 2016 Update: Olive has released JOHNNY GUITAR with a different screen ratio as part of its new Olive Signature line. My review of the excellent Olive Signature Blu-ray presentation is here.