ARKANSAS TIMES FILM SERIES: ‘JOHNNY GUITAR’
TUESDAY 1/17. Riverdale 10 VIP Cinema. 7 p.m.
At first blush, Nicholas Ray’s “Johnny Guitar” (1954) seems like a traditional Western, rife with steeds, saloons and shootouts. Upon closer inspection, however, much about this film is askew. Take Johnny Guitar himself, played by Sterling Hayden, a visitor from out-of-town who doesn’t carry a gun and broaches conflict via philosophical monologue and a strum on the six-stringed instrument he got his name from. Then dwell on the real main character, Vienna, played by Joan Crawford, Johnny’s confident ex-lover who’s unafraid to threaten with a deadly weapon and is the owner of a soon-to-boom watering hole that’s the subject of much local resentment. Finally, pay attention to Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), the most frightening and fiery figure in the whole movie, and the one who leads the effort to ruin Vienna’s business. In another subversion of genre tropes, “Johnny Guitar”’s greatness stems mostly from its character psychology, explored through dialogue that New Yorker critic Richard Brody compared to “bruising and vulnerable lyric poetry” in his 2022 review of this “cinematic opera.” “How many men have you forgotten?” Johnny asks Vienna in an exposed moment. “As many women as you remember,” she replies, before they embrace after years apart.