Do You Ever Dream of Vienna?— Cameron and David Discuss Johnny Guitar (for Parterre Box)

Cameron Kelsall: I occasionally teach a course on film aesthetics in the 1950s, and I try to balance the syllabus between well-known movies from the Golden Age and more outré fare. Of course, even the most familiar entries tend to be obscure to the average 18-to-22-year-old, and hard as I try, few leave with a lasting appreciation for Sunset Blvd. or Some Like It Hot. However, one title that I program nearly every semester ends up captivating the crowd without fail, with most students choosing it as their final paper topic. That film is Johnny Guitar, the delightfully subversive Western by director Nicholas Ray that features one of Joan Crawford’s most iconic performances. Ray mastered a balance between familiarity and weirdness that audiences can’t help being drawn toward—I know that’s one of the main reasons why I continue coming back to it. And it’s nice to find a Western that isn’t just shot through with testosterone. Make no mistake: the title role may be Johnny Guitar, embodied by the stiff but earnest Sterling Hayden, but the show belongs to Crawford’s gunslinging Vienna.

David Fox: I thought it was a perfect distillation of this fabulously strange, gender- and genre-bending movie tha,t as soon as I finished streaming it, the two Netflix promotions that immediately followed were for Bordertown… and Glow Up. That particular admixture seems to define Johnny Guitar, and I guess it sort of defines me, too. It is certainly a Western, and I would say a good if not great one. But what raises it to immortality is the odd—and oddly brilliant—idea of giving Joan Crawford the power-player role here of a saloon proprietor who, in the truest Western sense, is a speculator. And though her love interest is played by Sterling Hayden in, as you say, the title role, the true pairing here is Crawford versus Mercedes McCambridge, as Vienna’s mortal enemy, Emma. McCambridge gives as good as she gets, and in particular, the first 20 minutes and the last 20 minutes of Johnny Guitar catch fire like nobody’s business…

Click here to read the entire post at Parterre Box.

Categories: Criticism, Movies, PARTERRE BOX

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