Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Herbert J. Yates
Screenplay by Philip Yordan
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Film Editor: Richard L. Van Enger
Original Music by Victor Young and Peggy Lee
Cast: Joan Crawford (Vienna), Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar), Mercedes McCambridge (Emma Small), Scott Brady (Dancin’ Kid), Ward Bond (John McIvers), Ben Cooper (Turkey Ralston), Ernest Borgnine (Bart Lonergan), John Carradine (Old Tom), Royal Dano (Corey), Paul Fix (Eddie)
Johnny Guitar (1954) has always been one of my favorite 50s Westerns.
Now, I could go on and on about how it’s a Feminist Western, a Psychological Western, an Existential Western, an HUAC allegory and lots of other things — or maybe it’s none of those. Depends on how you look at it.
I could rattle off a list of prominent filmmakers who’ve cited it as an influence or a favorite. I could cover its incredible cast, surely one of the best assembled for a 50s Western (and that’s saying something), or Victor Young’s terrific score — even that great instrumental version of the title song by The Spotnicks.
I could even mention that at one point, there was talk of Jack Webb turning it into a TV series. Maybe it’s best to not get me started on Johnny Guitar at all.
But that’s not what this is about, not today anyway. It turns out Johnny Guitar is also one of the finest Blu-Rays I’ve ever seen.
Of course, Olive Films brought it out a few years ago, and it was marvelous. Some of us griped about it not reflecting Nick Ray’s original 1.66 cropping (I’m among the guilty), but the overall quality more than made up for it.
Well, Olive’s new Signature edition, it leaves the old release in the red, Sedona dust. This is a case where what a movie looks like on video can have a substantial impact on your appreciation of it. I saw details I’d never seen, and the restored 1.66 framing revealed little hints of Ray’s eye for color and composition (and his overall genius) that have escaped me for decades. In short, it made this great movie seem even greater.
The extras — Martin Scorsese intro, commentary, documentaries, trailer, etc. — are outstanding, covering everything from the film and its many interpretations to Nicholas Ray to Republic pictures. Still haven’t made my way through them all. This is a movie that deserves, and stands up to, all the analysis that’s heaped on it, and this package does it justice.
I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money. So I’ll just say that if I won the lottery, I’d buy a few cases of these and send you all one. And if you hadn’t made the switch to Blu-Ray, well, I’d have to help you out with that, too. This one gets my highest recommendation.
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