Let me just begin by saying that this is the campiest western I’ve seen so far. Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge) rushes into Vienna’s (Joan Crawford) casino and accusing her of hiring the Dancing Kid for a stagecoach ambush that killed her brother. They throw empty threats about each other’s gunnery or gunship or whatever that will make Joan Collins pale in comparison. Emma throws remarks that eventually reveals her secret desire for the Dancing Kid and resentment of Vienna’s plans to introduce a train line to the insular town. McIvers (Ward Bond), who is in Emma’s team, instates a law to ban gambling and drinking outside town limits, crippling Vienna’s business. That’s just the first scene.
Then the Dancing Kid robs a bank because he thinks it’s a good idea.
This is the first time I notice the colour black in costume to pop out in a western. While Emma and her people wear the dusty browns of typical Western costume, Vienna wears black. She seems like the villain in this part of the film. She’s also more showy in her affluence, also wearing pants to show one of her employees’ endearing quips about being more manly and making him feel like less of one. The next day shows an inversion of that duality. Vienna has a few costume changes while the mob keeps wearing their mourning black and staining it while hunting for their usual suspects. Vienna’s a woman who has to transform herself because of her past, present and future, the mob keep on to old grudges and bring with them a wave of revenge and death.
After the bank robbery come the best scenes of the film, for my shallow and subjective reasons. Vienna lights the oil lamps of a chandelier, wearing a white dress that looks like she’s hosting a ball in Europe instead of closing shop in the West. Then one of the Dancing Kid’s collaborators, Turkey, totters into her saloon. Despite the hallowed Lightbox screening, I gasped loudly ‘No!’ Don’t ruin the dress.
Thank God. Vienna shows us a BAMF move, playing a piano peacefully despite of Emma’s shrill (sorry) accusations.
The lynch mob tries to finish off Vienna but she escapes. The red dust of the West doesn’t even touch the dress. My eyebrow is raising.
Vienna and the titular Johnny ‘Guitar’ Logan (Sterling Hayden) escape to a mine shaft under the former’s now burnt down saloon. A little burning wooden beam falls down on Vienna’s dress. Finally.
Despite of how well some of her contemporaries have aged, it’s still strange to see Joan Crawford try and succeed to pull off something like that. But then it’s not like the film was trying to hide her age. As Vienna, she has a history, but she knows how to take care of herself.
I’ll make a last sartorial note about the film about the final showdown. Vienna and Johnny escape through a waterfall to the Dancing Kid’s lair. The Kid offers her dry clothes – Turkey’s. Vienna shoots Emma wearing Turkey’s yellow shirt, although she looks like she cans hoot a gun better than Turkey would. In a way, she helps him get a revenge he may have asked for.
Johnny Guitar is part of TIFF’s 100, a strange choice for the campy movie being championed by critics today. TIFF’s write-up of the film touched on the movie having the two strongest female characters in film history. I agree in a way that it took me four years and this movie to know that there’s a movie out there that has two women in opposing ends of gun mobs. And yes, the men in the film are as useful as the guns themselves, rarely opposing the women who lead them. They do subvert stereotypes of good and evil, virgin and whore. And of course, Vienna and Emma are better than many female characters today. But are these female characters only strong in comparison?
Johnny Guitar, directed by pot-stirrer Nicholas Ray with a supporting cast including Ernest Borgnine and John Carradine, is on again at the Lightbox on November 20th at 6PM.
This is what was distracting me while watching “The Godfather.” This is also probably a proof that the epic ‘lit a fire under everyone’s careers,’ but it didn’t let most of the people involved feel like this is their magnum opus. The same, however, could be said about “Gone With the Wind or “The Dark Knight.”
Al Pacino – “Serpico,” more of an Al Pacino vehicle than “Dog Day Afternoon.” Him in “DDA” is hailed as his best, and it’s surprising how his best role is his gay one, but it also owes a lot to Lumet’s stage-like directing.
James Caan – “Dogville,” where he plays a cameo that’s a polar opposite of his character in “The Godfather.”
Robert Duvall – “Apocalypse Now.” It could have been “Network” if there was more for him to do.
Sterling Hayden – “Asphalt Jungle,” just because of that last scene.
Diane Keaton – “Reds,” where she’s acidic. And in this movie directed by Alan Parker which I have yet to see.
John Cazale – “Dog Day Afternoon.” Cool, calm, sadistic.
Sofia Coppola – Not as an actress, but “Lost in Translation.”
Cast in Sequel:
Robert de Niro – “Taxi Driver,” obviously.
Francis Ford Coppola – “The Conversation.” I love this movie so much I wanna marry it.
Nino Rota – See (or hear) Fellini’s crazy, psychedelic, surrealist, fun yet moody films.
- The Conversation (notreallyworking.wordpress.com)
Finally! And just to let TV folks know that no one can sit through four hours of this with commercials. Luckily, I caught this on the Bloor on Thursday. I was still slightly distracted, partly because I’ve seen most of this movie until the baptism massacre. I’ve read some of the criticism of this movie listed here, so seriously, what else is there to say?
That I’m flip flopping as to whether or not this is nature or nurture – either his safe distance from the family business made him learn enough and to stay temperamental or that Michael (Al Pacino) was ordained to be Don, despite everyone else’s plans. That this is “greatest movie ever” despite that all the principle players with the exception of Abe Vigoda have been better somewhere else.
That Michael, brandishing an Anglo name, had the swagger of Jimmy Cagney once he turned into the hat-wearing gangster.
That this movie’s pretty meditative until the murder scenes, all having the punch of William Wellman gangster movies.
That I couldn’t remember Sterling Hayden’s name and that bugged me for the whole movie, so I just kept calling him Robert Ryan instead.
That Italians really like Italian stage blood.
That where are the women?
That one reviewer actually pointed out Sonny’s (James Caan) shoulder and back hair and yes, I would still hit it.
And lastly, that there’s a place in my heart for Godfather III because Michael and Kay (Diane Keaton) make the cutest old divorced couple ever and that I can turn that into a drinking game, unlike this one.
p.s. CHCH is gonna be airing on pan-and-scan and HD versions of “The Godfather” on June 13th at 7, and the respective sequels will be aired at Sunday June 20th and 27th at the same time slot.
In 1950, Marilyn Monroe was good but by no means a great actress. Her greatness would have to wait until 1961, although a lot of you will probably say it happens earlier than that, if you didn’t put a rock in my face already. And it’s not her fault, neither. She’s given bit parts like escorts for men you would rather not be escorts for (in the same year, she played arm candy to George Sanders), with lines full of exclamatory colloquialism that hard to pull off. Someone watching this movie in 1950 wouldn’t even know who Marilyn Monroe was until the end credits, sadly enough.
In a scene with a cop trying to take her away from her bedroom door, she delivers her words with a different emotion each line, going from anger to fear to seduction without transitioning between these three, or just staying with one while discretely sprinkling her lines with the other two. Rita Hayworth could pull off being hot by either being consistently drunk or bitter. But then Rita wouldn’t play this part in 1950.That doesn’t mean that Marilyn doesn’t add any nuance to her role. There’s a childlike quality to her, adding to the sympathy we already have for her character.
Marilyn’s appearance isn’t the only thing worthwhile in the movie. “The Asphalt Jungle” is a very apt title for the film and for that time, since some would say that urban areas doesn’t civilize people but just concentrate the wild ones. An important police officer turns on a switchboard, a box recording voices speaking about crimes. These voices effectively authenticate the chaos happening in the streets. If one cop had been only talking for the rest of his force, he’d just be a limp PS.