Nicholas Ray’s ‘Johnny Guitar’ Thrills and Confounds Again, in a Gorgeous Restoration


Exquisitely restored in 4K to make its three-strip Trucolor process sing, Nicholas Ray’s masterful yet only cult-beloved 1954 take on a Republic Pictures oater — a slyly radical psychosexual oddity busting through genre conventions, beyond its Old West Arizona setting — has been read as a McCarthyist allegory, feminist subversion, and Joan Crawford camp classic. (Playwright and drag luminary Charles Busch will introduce the 8 p.m. screening on November 13.)

A favorite of the French New Wave’s critics-turned-auteurs, this vivid and emotionally hysterical seduction doesn’t focus on traveling troubadour and reluctant hero Johnny “Guitar” Logan (Sterling Hayden) as much as it does his ex-lover, Vienna (Crawford), the gun-toting owner of a gambling saloon and a steely reserve.

“I’ve never seen a woman who was more a man. She thinks like one, acts like one, and sometimes makes me feel like I’m not,” sighs Vienna’s craps dealer, just before a bloodthirsty mob of townspeople brings in a dead body and a menacing demand to skip town tomorrow.

The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady) and his vibrant-hued gang may have robbed the stagecoach, but look out for witch-hunting harpy Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), whose volatile mix of fear, jealousy, and maniacal contempt makes for the era’s most complicated screen villain.

Johnny Guitar

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Paramount Pictures

Opens November 13, Film Forum