We begin today a series of viewing devoted to the films of Joan Crawford. We are rather bound to what is in our personal collections, but I think we can promise you some interesting choices.
We begin with one of her odder films - 1954's Johnny Guitar.
First off, it is rather strange to see Joan in a Western. I don't
believe she had ever done one before, nor did she ever do another one.
As directed by Nicholas Ray, this is also a very peculiar western. For
one thing, the lead protagonists are two women: Vienna,
as played by Joan Crawford has opened a gambling saloon just outside
town, as she waits for her land's value to appreciate with the arrival
of the railroad; and Emma Small, a local rancher who loathes Vienna for a
number of reasons, not the least of it is Emma's attraction to The
Dancing Kid (Scott Brady), who rather has eyes for Vienna. In this scene, Johnny and Emma hint at their past:
whole movie is centered around the conclusion, the battle between
Vienna and Emma. More than a simple catfight, it is the kind of battle
one normally expects of the male rivals in the film. In fact, for the
most part, the men are rather weak. Sure, Vienna has hired Johnny Guitar
(Sterling Hayden) to work for her - he is a reformed gunfighter and her
former lover - but he revolves within her orbit, not she around his.
Vienna and Emma are clearly alpha females. The men do their bidding.
personal antagonism of Ms. Crawford and Ms. McCambridge has become the
stuff of legend. On screen, they spit fire at one another. The film is
both electric and fascinating for its oddness. It verges on film noir,
yet it isn't quite.
Costuming is an important feature in Johnny Guitar.
Witness Vienna, posed in her flowing white dress, positioned next to
Emma in her black mourning weeds: Even when Vienna switches to clothing
that is less conspicuous, she puts on a blazing red shirt - matched
precisely to Ms. Crawford's bold red lipstick. Crawford
looks tall and stately (though she was only 5'4"), next to the "tiny"
Mercedes McCambridge (who was 5'3"). Even Ms. McCambrige's name in the
story - Small - speaks to her personal and physical attributes. As a
result, Vienna always stands out. Ms. Crawford makes sure of that!
Next time, we'll go on to a much earlier Crawford film. Please join us.