Film Preview: Johnny Guitar

Rachel Chou, Assistant Campus Life Editor

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“Johnny Guitar” is a 1954 western drama film starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, and Scott Brady. The film was directed by Nicholas Ray and produced by Herbert J. Yates.

Based on the novel by Roy Chanslor, “Johnny Guitar” tells a story about a strong-willed saloon keeper named Vienna, played by Crawford. When the locals wish to drive Vienna out of town because of her involvement with her former lover “The Dancin’ Kid” and his confederate friends, turmoil ensues until the appearance of the mysterious Johnny Guitar, played by Hayden.

Although Philip Yordan was credited for the film, Ben Maddow was the screenwriter for the film. Maddow had been blacklisted in the film writer community for turning down multiple imperative writing assignments, including one for Columbia Pictures.  “Johnny Guitar” was only one of the many films that Maddow was left unaccredited for, others including “High Noon,” “The Naked Jungle,” “The Wild One,” “God’s Little Acre,” and “Wild River.”

Crawford and McCambridge (who plays Emma) heavily influenced the drama in the production of the film. While the two characters in the story share an obvious tension, as Emma is the one who persuades the locals that Vienna is guilty, it appears that there was also tension offstage that heightened the onstage conflict further. Crawford had once dated McCambridge’s husband, and according to cast members, McCambridge harassed Crawford for it. To make matters worse, Crawford was battling alcoholism at the time she was filming “Johnny Guitar.” Knowledge of the offstage feud between the two leading women increases the appeal of watching this western drama.

“Johnny Guitar” originally received negative reviews, but over time, the film has been regarded as one of Ray’s greatest films. As a further testament to the film’s success, in 2008, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

Be sure to watch “Johnny Guitar” on Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. in the Campus Theatre as the next installment in the Film/Media Series.

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