Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Johnny Guitar (1954)

I generally keep away from American westerns. It's not a genre that I particularly like. I much prefer spaghetti westerns! No idea why I like them so much, despite being so uncaring about U.S. ones, but I am, and rarely watch the latter. Johnny Guitar was an exception though, thanks to its stellar reputation, including high praise from some friends, so I jumped on the chance to give the movie a shot...

A small Arizona town is about to be connected with the railway, much to the anger of some locals, but to the pleasure of Vienna, a businesswoman and saloon manager. Bitter rival Emma insists on making trouble, whipping up ferment among the townfolk. She accuses Vienna of harbouring outlaws, and events soon come to a head with the arrival of old flame Johnny...

Yep, I REALLY don't take to American westerns! As it turns out, I didn't like Johnny Guitar! You know, this is why I haven't watched Shane yet! I'm sure it's a great movie, and a classic, but I'm afraid that if I watch it, its mystique as a classic of cinema will be lost on me thanks to my distaste of its genre! God, what if I probably dislike High Noon too!

I found Johnny Guitar to be very interesting at first, for over half-an-hour in fact. The first 30+ minutes are all in real-time, and works very well, with each long-ish scene following directly from the previous ones. I was really eager to see where the story would go!...Well I'll tell you where it goes-To a new damn location several hours later! That instantly shattered my notion, and it was around this point where the film started taking a downturn for me. I suppose it passed that event horizon point where you realize if a film's slow because it's effectively slow-moving, or just plain boring. Coupled with the disappointment that Johnny Guitar isn't in real time, but rather wasted almost 40 minutes on a couple of scenes pissed me off!

As for the story itself, not only did I start becoming bored, but I also feel it didn't quite live up to its potential, and I found it to be quite depressing! Vienna's got such a great thing going on, and it's utterly ruined by petty grudges, and misunderstandings. The only reason bad stuff even happens is just because Emma is horny, but too self-loathing about her sexuality to just walk up to the Dancin' Kid and make eyes at him. I would've preferred if Emma's reasons for hating Vienna been stronger (and actually related to her, rather than an acquaintance). Oh well, at the least, Johnny Guitar doesn't have a depressing ending. It's not the happiest, but not terrible, like I was afraid it'd be.

Despite my gripes, I do have positive things to say about this movie. First is its treatment of women. No, there aren't any scenes where Johnny comes back after all these years and says 'Hi honey, good job you've done prettying this place up, but the man's here now, so get your sweet body back into the kitchen, dollface!'. Just the opposite, the movie's lead is a strong, independent woman, and the villainous Emma is too, holding lots of influence over those in town, and able to start up an angry mob at the drop of a hat.

Descriptions I've read also describe the male characters as 'weak and ineffectual', but I didn't really find that to be the case. It is for a couple, but not all. Vienna's character did end up annoying me later on though, when she does fall back in love with her old beau.

I also liked how the movie takes time to psychologically develop its main characters, in a way that must have been fairly uncommon for a regular oater.

The use of colour in the movie is really eye-catching! Lots of bright colours, which clash effectively against the backgrounds. The set design and effects are a standout too.

The pacing here is decent to start with. The first third moves really smoothly at first, but it crashes to a halt after that, and ends up being a bit uneven, and overlong, with several points where I wasn't sure if the story was hitting the climax or not.

The acting is one of this film's high points, with Joan Crawford being the standout, along with Mercedes McCambridge. Forrest Tuc...I mean Ward Bond is fine, too, and John Carradine adds some heart to the proceedings. Ernest Borgnine gets to be a real villain here. None of those trademark huggable smiles! The rest of the acting is all serviceable.

I didn't find Johnny Guitar as great as I was expecting, and that left me rather disappointed, perhaps moreso than if I went into it blind. I suppose it's worth a watch if you like American westerns, and the performances and visuals totally worth it...

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