Personally, I love a good Western. Especially one with a totally kick-ass heroine like saloonkeeper Vienna in Johnny Guitar. It doesn’t hurt that Vienna is played by the proverbial mistress of “Don’t Mess with Me”, Joan Crawford.
It seems Vienna supports the railroad coming to town, which doesn’t sit well with the cattlemen. She also has an ex name of “The Dancin’ Kid”, a holdup man who hangs out at Vienna’s with his criminal friends.
This pits the townies against Vienna and her pals. The townsfolk are represented by John McIvers (played by Ward Bond), who’s encouraged by Emma Small (played with delicious viciousness by Mercedes McCambridge) to run Vienna and company out of town.
Not to be tossed aside lightly, Vienna faces them down with the help of the namesake of the film—the mysterious Johnny Guitar. He’s another of Vienna’s ex-paramours and a reformed gunslinger, who kind of shows up.
This is the basic set-up for the 110 minutes of flat out suspense and confrontation between Vienna and Emma Small.
Naturally, just as things appear most dire for Vienna, Johnny Guitar steps in to save the day.
But make no mistake about it. Vienna is a strong and capable protagonist. And while Johnny Guitar has a hand in getting her out of a fix at the last moment, it’s Vienna who gets her revenge on Emma Small. And it’s no small revenge (no pun intended). Thus, Vienna and Johnny Guitar are equally matched in the guts department.
This movie is not only a kind of feminist Western, but includes metaphors for the Hollywood Blacklist, as expressed in the McCarthy-esque character of Emma Small.
For these reasons and more, I love this film and give it the double thumbs up! 🙂