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Johnny Guitar Blu-ray Review


“Johnny Guitar” is a different type of western.

After a guitar playing ex-gunslinger (Johnny Guitar) arrives in a saloon (owned by the ambitious, tough, business woman Vienna) to work a new job, all hell breaks loose. Emma (who just lost her brother in a stage robbery) bursts into the saloon with a Marshal, a wealthy rancher (John McIvers) and other gun toting people and immediately begins a manhunt for the Dancin’ Kid and his gang whom she believes is responsible. Furthermore, she believes that Vienna is also guilty given that she has been friendly with the Dancin’ Kid. Mind you, Emma has no evidence. From here on out, things become decidedly tense to say the least. To make matters more complicated, we (the viewer) also learn that Johnny Guitar and Vienna have a romantic history and that their love may be rekindled. To say anything more would be spoiling the story.

Back in 1954, director Nicholas Ray (who is perhaps best known for helming the great “Rebel Without A Cause”) crafted a western that set itself apart from others. Sure, there are gunfights and elements one would expect from a standard western film, but “Johnny Guitar” was nothing if not more psychological than other westerns at the time as it dealt with subtexts and themes of mob mentality, romance, sexuality, revenge, and death. It’s a very arty character piece that has understandably become a cult classic over the years.

Now, sure, one can argue the film is slow, overlong, and a bit stagey in spots, but I don’t think anyone can say the film is boring. Given that the tension between characters is established early on, you are left anticipating the conclusion where everything comes to a head. The film’s slow burn is intentional and actually benefits the film in terms of developing characters and building to a fiery climax.

Acting wise, there are a few great performances here. Joan Crawford (whose role as Vienna was arguably groundbreaking for the time) steals the show without question, Sterling Hayden (who plays the titular role) shines as the mysterious Johnny Guitar  and Scott Brady makes a great impression as the sly Dancin’ Kid.

Note: “Johnny Guitar” is part of the brand new Olive Signature line from Olive Films. The film comes in a slick slipcase and is housed in a clear Blu-ray case.


Presentation: 1.66:1 1080p. How does it look? The 4K restoration is a little disappointing. The colors are certainly striking but the picture is rather fuzzy and wavy at times which I found to be distracting.

Audio Track: Mono. How does it sound? It certainly doesn’t sound like a Mono track which is good news! It’s a very lively audio track that fans of the film will no doubt be happy about.

* A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. The essay is also featured on the Blu-ray.
* Theatrical trailer.
* A thoughtful archival intro by Martin Scorsese.
* “My Friend, The American Friend”- A collection of interviews with Tom Farrell and Chris Sievernich who knew/met Nicholas Ray. The interviews contain fascinating stories about the late filmmaker.
* “Free Republic: Herbert J. Yates And The Story Of Republic Pictures”- The title says it all.
* “Johnny Guitar: A Western Like No Other”- Numerous critics talk about what makes this western film unique.
* “Johnny Guitar: A Feminist Western?”-An interesting bonus feature that examines whether or not “Johnny Guitar” is a feminist western.
* A 10 ½ minute extra titled “Tell Us She Was One Of You: The Blacklist History Of Johnny Guitar.”

* A quiet, informative, and clearly scripted commentary by author/film critic Geoff Andrew.

Overall Thoughts: If you’re a fan of westerns and have not seen “Johnny Guitar,” check it out. You might be surprised by what you see.

September 17, 2016 - Posted by | Blu-Ray review | , , , , ,

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