(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)
(#38) Johnny Guitar
Western • dir. Nicholas Ray • 1954 • USA
Were it not for it being the end of a long week, my brain in the advance stages of an end-of-week shutdown, I’d try to write a few things about how smart Johnny Guitar is. About its impressive feminist (possibly even gay) credentials, and its allegorical condemnation of McCarthyism (at the time still rippling through Hollywood via the House Un-American Activities Commission and its blacklisting of suspected Communists). And how much les enfants terribles of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, righteously dug its director, Nicholas Ray (soon to be found coaxing a career-defining performance out of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause).
So instead, I’ll settle for noting what rattling good fun Johnny Guitar is. The first time I watched it, it raced by in a satisfying blur. It has many of the trademark features of a classic Western – a gang, a saloon, a vendetta, a shootout – but, no mistake, it’s quite unlike any other Western you’ll ever see. Its two main protagonists are women (they hated each other on set and off). Sterling Hayden goes around playing a mean guitar, and, for that matter, second fiddle to Joan Crawford. The screenplay and Ray’s treatment of it is melodramatic and arch (Hayden: “Tell me something nice.” Crawford: “Sure. What do you want to hear?” Hayden: “Lie to me.”) The color scheme is conspicuously bold. All put another way, if John Wayne had walked into one of Johnny Guitar‘s weird, stylized sets, he would surely have walked straight back out again confused. The whole damn film is positively fabulous.