"I've never seen a woman who was more like a man," a character observes of Vienna (Joan Crawford), who has just opened a saloon that hasn't exactly endeared itself to the local townspeople. Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), the local sexually repressed, lynch-happy harpy, is particularly displeased. Vienna is wooed both by the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady) and by Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), a peripatetic tough guy-turned-troubadour with whom she has a past.
When the Kid's gang (which includes Ernest Borgnine) decides to knock over the bank before heading to California, Emma wants just about everyone in sight on the business end of a rope. Nicolas Ray's 1954 epic was considered one of the downright strangest Westerns of all time--the women were far tougher than the men (Johnny watches on laconically during the bank robbery, not bothering with heroics), and some saw in the film a bizarre allegory for the McCarthy Red scare. A half-century later, it's still a curious, intriguing piece of moral ambiguity from a time when such a thing ostensibly didn't exist. Hayden is an enigmatic presence, and Crawford's commanding star turn is what you'd expect. --David Kronke
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