If, like myself, you are a gamer you’ll have heard Johnny Guitar‘s main theme on one of the Fallout: New Vegas radio stations. My first exposure to this film was as a side-mention on The Celluloid Closet – a documentary about the representation of LGBT in Hollywood movies. Now that I have seen it… I am not too sure I get the LGBT vibe from this film, which probably means it’s more obvious in the book.
Anyway. I object to this film being called Johnny Guitar. He is not the main character in this film or, to be honest, one that matters too much. The central figure is Vienna, a bar and gambling den owner in the Old West who counts a known outlaw amongst her clientele. She is the film. I know that the central role of Vienna will, in part, be Joan Crawford ensuring her own screentime, but she was the person who secured the rights to the novel… so fair enough really.
Now, whilst Johnny Guitar is technically a western it did not always feel like one. It manages to tick the boxes by having a shoot-out, a number of explosions and a scene where criminals are hanged, but there’s more than this.
As engrossing as this film is it can feel like it has been shot in a version of a heightened reality. Maybe a lot of this is due to the particular nature of Joan Crawford herself. Her character is fascinating to watch, but she sure does feel out of place in the Johnny Guitar world. Everything is so purposeful and you can tell someone with a precise eye put some of the shots together; the shot with the piano immediately springs to mind.
Oh and how could I forget the character of Emma. Seriously, this woman has some huge hatred for Vienna and, for me, it’s never explained in a way that truly satisfied me. In essence, her blind hatred and indomitable need to destroy Vienna is meant to show up the McCarthy witch hunts of the time. She has it out for Vienna and knows just which political buttons to push and which people to intimidate in order to get her way.
It is an odd little film, but my how the time flew as I watched it.