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Nicholas Ray
Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Ernest Borgnine
Writing Credits:
Philip Yordan

A strong willed female saloon owner is wrongly suspected of murder and bank robbery by a lynch mob, when she helps a wounded gang member.

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 110 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 9/20/2016

• Audio Commentary with Critic Geoff Andrew
• Intro by Filmmaker Martin Scorsese
• “A Western Like No Other” Featurette
• “A Feminist Western?” Featurette
• “Tell Us She Was One of You” Featurette
• “Free Republic” Featurette
• “My Friend, The American Friend” Featurette
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Johnny Guitar [Blu-Ray] (1954)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 4, 2016)

Despite a title that sounds like something out of the Elvis Presley filmography, 1954’s Johnny Guitar instead stars Joan Crawford. Set in an Old West mining territory, Vienna (Crawford) runs a saloon outside of town and hopes to form her own village once a railroad comes through the area.

Vienna’s dreams get sidetracked when competitor Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge) convinces the locals that Vienna participated in a string of robberies. Aided by ex-loved Johnny “Guitar” Logan (Sterling Hayden), Vienna fights for her survival.

The title of Johnny Guitar may imply a male-dominated story, but the truth lies elsewhere. As my synopsis indicates, females motivate most of the action, which leads me to assume the title stems from basic Western film sexism. Sure, Johnny plays a prominent role – especially as his relationship with Vienna reignites – but this remains her narrative, not his.

The focus on females gives Guitar an unusual and refreshing air. The mid-1950s wasn’t exactly prime time for feminism, but the movie gives us a portrayal of strong women who can handle themselves. It does toss in the aforementioned romantic connection – and implies that Emmma’s sexual repression creates a lot of her negativity toward Vienna – but it still gives us an unconventional focus in terms of gender.

That aspect of Guitar lets it stand out from the crowd, but the female-centric nature of the tale doesn’t feel gratuitous. The use of women as leads could’ve become gimmicky, but the choice always seems organic and fits the movie well.

It’s a good twist and one that suits events, partly because it doesn’t treat the women in a sexist manner. Again, we do get some of the standard romance, but there’s not a lot about Vienna or Emma that really seems “female” – I suspect the movie could pretty easily be redone with male leads and not require a lot of alterations.

Aside from its novel character focus, Guitar provides a well-crafted Western. I can’t say it reinvents too many wheels in terms of its basic story, but it develops characters and situations in a concise manner that allows us to invest in the narrative and personalities.

All the actors succeed as well. Granted, matters can veer toward high melodrama – especially from Crawford, a woman who never met scenery she couldn’t chew – but the performances still suit the movie. A good supporting cast with stalwarts such as John Carradine, Ernest Borgnine and Ward Bond gives the overall enterprise depth and substance.

This means that Johnny Guitar develops into a rich, satisfying Western. It gives us an unusual twist on the genre and ends up as a winning effort.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Johnny Guitar appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie looked pretty good.

Sharpness generally appeared positive, but some softness crept in at times. Initially I thought this stemmed from loose focus to preserve the roughly 50-year-old Joan Crawford’s ego, but inconsistency in that regard changed my mind. In any case, most of the movie seemed well-defined.

I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement remained absent. With a nice layer of grain, digital noise reduction wasn’t a concern, and print flaws seemed minor. I noted a couple of small specks but nothing more.

Colors were strong. Most Westerns tend toward a sandy palette, and that was the case here as well to a degree, but the elements opened up for a variety of brighter hues. These looked lush and vivid in fine fashion.

Blacks seemed deep and dense without too much heaviness. Shadow detail worked similarly well, as dimly-lit shots were appropriately clear and thick. Overall, I thought the Blu-ray brought the movie to life in a positive manner.

I thought the DTS-HD MA monaural audio of Guitar was perfectly adequate for its age. It didn’t exceed expectations for a mix of its era, but the audio was more than acceptable. Speech lacked edginess. The lines weren’t exactly natural, but they seemed distinctive and without problems.

Effects were a little flat, but they showed no distortion and displayed acceptable definition. Music was pretty lively given its age, as the score sounded reasonably bright and concise. All together, I found the soundtrack aged pretty well.

This “Olive Signature” edition of Guitar comes with a mix of extras, and these launch with an audio commentary from critic Geoff Andrew. He offers a running, screen-specific look at cast and crew, production areas and interpretation.

In other words, Andrew brings us a fairly typical “historian commentary”. He does this reasonably well, but I can’t claim Andrew even turns this into a great chat. Still, he covers the movie in a positive manner, so the track deserves a listen.

For perspective from a legendary filmmaker, we find an introduction by Martin Scorsese. In the three-minute, 28-second clip, Scorsese tells us a little about director Nicholas Ray as well as interpretation of the film itself. Scorsese offers a few insights.

During the 17-minute, 29-second A Western Like No Others, we hear from critics Miriam Bale, Kent Jones, Joe McElhaney and B. Ruby Rich. They look at visual design and symbolism, color usage, costumes, and interpretation. “Others” gives us a reasonable overview of its subject matter.

A Feminist Western? runs 14 minutes, 33 seconds and provides more thoughts from Bale, Jones, McElhaney and Rich. Here they examine the movie’s female-centered areas, with more introspection and interpretation. It becomes another useful take on its topics.

Next comes Tell Us She Was One of You, a 10-minute, 23-second piece with historian Larry Ceplair and screenwriter Walter Bernstein. “You” focuses on the Hollywood Blacklist, as it discusses that history. Good facts emerge here, especially since Bernstein offers his personal perspective on how the Blacklist impacted him.

Another look at history, Free Republic goes for six minutes, one second, and involves archivist Marc Wanamaker. “Free” gives us information about Republic Pictures, with an emphasis on how the studio connected to Johnny Guitar. We find a short but interesting summary.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc finishes with My Friend, The American Friend. It lasts 11 minutes, seven seconds and provides notes from Tom Farrell and Chris Sievernich. Both share their memories of director Nicholas Ray via their experiences with him late in his life. This feels like the least informative of the featurettes, but it still manages some decent material.

The package also includes a booklet. It features photos and a Jonathan Rosenbaum essay called “The First Existential Western”. The booklet adds value to the set. (Note that the essay also appears as a text feature on the Blu-ray itself.)

Would I classify Johnny Guitar as one of the all-time great Westerns? No, but it still offers a strong tale with intriguing twists and involving characters. The Blu-ray brings us mostly good picture and audio as well as a fairly informative set of supplements. Guitar holds up well after more than 60 years.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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