Sunday, October 02, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Johnny Guitar (1954) - An Olive Signature Blu-ray Review

Olive Films has just kicked off their brand-new Olive Signature line of Blu-rays and DVDs.

The first Olive Signature releases are JOHNNY GUITAR (1954) and HIGH NOON (1952).

Unlike regular Olive Films releases, which typically have no extras, the Olive Signature releases are "fully loaded" sets akin to releases from the Criterion Collection or Flicker Alley. The company says that Olive Signature's goal is an "immersive cinematic experience."

Olive Signature's JOHNNY GUITAR comes in a very attractive case with slipcover. The set includes a trailer, a commentary track by Geoff Andrew, and five featurettes, plus an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum in a glossy eight-page illustrated booklet; the essay is also duplicated on the disc itself.

I haven't yet had time to rewatch the film with the commentary track, but I found the featurettes to be generally thoughtful and informative. I especially enjoyed Miriam Bale's comment that much of the film is an "indoor Western," and her citing the influence of director Nicholas Ray's early apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright on the film's design.

The disc also contains an introduction by Martin Scorsese which was carried over from prior releases of the film, including Olive's 2012 DVD.

Of particular note is that the previous JOHNNY GUITAR DVD from Olive was 1.37, but this Olive Signature release is 1.66. Archivist Robert Harris writes at Home Theater Forum that "...it's the JOHNNY GUITAR fans have been waiting for."

I discussed the plot and my responses to this most unusual, riveting film extensively in my 2014 review after watching Olive's previous DVD release, so I'll address that aspect a bit more concisely here.

Joan Crawford stars as Vienna, who owns a saloon which seems to be in the middle of nowhere. The set design of the saloon, with its piano and a rock wall, is just one aspect of the movie's memorable visuals.

One by one an assortment of characters visit the saloon during a dust storm, including Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady), the Marshal (Frank Ferguson), McIvers (Ward Bond), and Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), who holds Vienna responsible for the death of her brother.

I'm just getting started on the cast, which also includes Ernest Borgnine, John Carradine, Paul Fix, Ben Cooper, and Royal Dano, and even more familiar faces such as Will Wright, Rhys Williams, and Denver Pyle.

Incidentally, Crawford is dubbed by India Adams, who had also sung for Crawford in TORCH SONG (1953); Adams also dubbed Cyd Charisse in THE BAND WAGON (1953).

Before the film's 110 minutes are done there are shootouts, a fire, and a lynching, filmed in otherworldly colors by Harry Stradling. The whole thing plays like an odd dream.

I liked the film the first time I saw it, even as I was baffled by many aspects, including Crawford's power over men. The movie stayed with me, and I found I responded to the film even more positively this time around, because I understood going in what to expect. This time I was ready and watching for the color choices -- including the pops of green when Emma confronts Vienna, the townspeople all in black like crows, or the amazing yellows and reds -- and the political and sexual themes threading through the film.

Indeed, when the opening credits started accompanied by Victor Young's superb score, I had goosebumps. As Scorsese says in his introduction, the movie is "operatic," a description which seems apt.

The picture on the Olive Signature Blu-ray is stunning. Both the film and the Olive Signature Blu-ray presentation are highly recommended.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

5 Comments:

OpenID vienna said...

I can't wait to get this, one of my favourite westerns. I like that expression 'an indoor western' . So many scenes are in the saloon or the hideout. It has an amazing cast, as you say.
It's Peggy Lee's haunting title song that I love.

12:25 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

Hi Laura,
Lovely review and as you know from my comments over at Toby's it's the first time
that I've seen the film...loved it!
Thanks BTW for the "heads up" on TAKE ME TO TOWN another film that I've never seen.
Toby seemed to like my comparisons to SILVER LODE and SLIGHTLY SCARLET which he saw
as well. I also mentioned the comparison to WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED...except the
two strong willed women actually bond when they have sorted things out in Dwan's
film.
Totally agree about the stunning picture quality.
Only complaint-I wish that the Republic Pictures overview had been longer than 6
minutes.

7:06 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I have this edition to Johnny Guitar and the only issue is in the description of sterling Hayden not knowing how to shoot. He was a combat certified member of the United states marine Corps. Of course he could shoot, almost anything.

7:18 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Further thought on Hayden in westerns. He had already appeared in El Paso, Flaming Feather, Denver & the Rio Grande, Kansas Pacific. Enough so that even if Rosenbaum's account is a so-called quote, it needs context. This is the kind of thing that puts into question everything else, fairly or not.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, especially given your "handle," this is a must pickup for you! :) The music is great, isn't it?

Hi John! I also liked your comparison to SLIGHTLY SCARLET in particular, inasmuch as both films are kind of "over the top" in terms of both story and color, with two women. I had one other quibble about the Republic featurette, the mention of THE MAVERICK QUEEN seemed a little out of timeline context.

Barrylane, I had overlooked that comment by Rosenbaum and went back through his essay this morning to find it. You're right, that does seem like an odd statement in the context of both Hayden's war service and film career. I'd like to know what prompted it.

Best wishes,
Laura

8:43 AM  

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