Starring: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge
Director: Nicholas Ray
Vienna (Crawford) is a saloon owner in the Old West, whose business sits on land where the railroad will come. She stands to make a lot of money in the future, but the local farmers think she’s a bad seed, along with the rough and ready gang that hang out in her bar. They also don’t look forward to the changes that the railroad will bring.
Things come to a head when her old flame Johnny Guitar (Hayden) returns to town, stirring up old feelings, and a robbery takes place. This is just the ammunition that Emma (McCambridge) needs to turn the full force of her malice and venom on Vienna, who she hates because she has the love of the man that Emma cannot admit to herself that she really wants.
It’s a film of epic emotion, with bright colours and hysterical characters who deliver big speeches. It’s something that you’ll either love or hate, because it is larger than life in so many ways, but from a filmic perspective it’s a really interesting film. It focuses on two women, Vienna and Emma, who are polar opposites. Emma is so repressed that her feelings have twisted into violent and murderous hatred. Vienna is an independent woman, unafraid of change. Emma hides her evil behind respectability, whilst Vienna is perhaps not traditional, but has honour. She’s willing to make a stand for what is right, and perhaps that’s why the men fight over her, and why Emma is so destructively jealous of her. There are not many westerns that are about women like this.
It also has been compared to the events of the 50’s, McCarthyism and the blacklist, with the lynch mob being those who went on the witch hunt, and Vienna making the moral stand that was so needed.
The colours of the film are bright and loud, with Crawford often in contrasting colours, whilst her enemy is in old fashioned black. There’s nothing quite like Crawford’s face when she delivers a moralising speech in this film, towering and brightly lit, and her costumes support the drama of every scene. It’s an intense film, and quite fun really, but man… it’s really OTT.
See It If: you like strong women in film or if you love your melodrama 50’s style, it’s a bit of a cult classic.