Sunday, August 23, 2009

Johnny Guitar

Nicholas Ray, 1954 (7.6*)
This is an absolutely bizarre western, featuring gun-toting women and music loving gunmen. The title character is a guitar-toting, peaceful outsider, played by Sterling Hayden, in his "glamour boy" days, with curly blond hair. He drifts into a dusty town where saloon-keeper Joan Crawford has a feud going with local rancher Mercedes McCambridge and the locals, including sheriff Ward Bond, all seem to do her bidding, which can be pretty vindictive. There are also hints of romantic jealousy between the two over Dancing Boy (Scott Brady), who has a gang of illiterates led by perfectly cast tough guy Ernest Borgnine.

There are few western cliches here, as if Ray intentionally set about to break traditions. Little in the plot is "black and white", it's all intense hues of color - literally. By way of introduction to the town, Sterling Hayden's fingers fly over the guitar, while Dancing Boy illustrates his nickname as well, wheeling McCambridge around he room. Even the settings are bizarre: Crawford's saloon, which stands by itself outside of the town proper, has a desert rock wall and resembles a cave, the outlaw hideout is on a hilltop approached by going through a waterfall. Written by blacklisted author Ben Maddow (credited to Philip Yourdon) from a Roy Chanslor novel. Oddly listed by IMDB as "film noir" - a western?


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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