AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Johnny Guitar
Director: Nicholas Ray (Dir)
Release Date:   23 Aug 1954
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 26 May 1954
Production Date:   mid-Oct--mid-Dec 1953
Duration (in mins):   110-111
Duration (in reels):   12
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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)  
    Frank Ferguson (Marshal Williams)  
    Paul Fix (Eddie)  
    Rhys Williams (Mr. Andrews)  
    Ian MacDonald (Pete)  
    Will Wright (Ned)  
    John Maxwell (Jake)  
    Robert Osterloh (Sam)  
    Frank Marlowe (Frank)  
    Trevor Bardette (Jenks)  
    Sumner Williams (Posse)  
    Sheb Wooley (Posse)  
    Denver Pyle (Posse)  
    Clem Harvey (Posse)  

Summary: In the 1800s, in Arizona, a reformed gunfighter, who is hiding behind the alias “Johnny Guitar,” shows up at an out-of-the-way gambling casino located in an unlikely spot near a sleepy town. The owner, the steely, opportunistic Vienna, built the casino there in anticipation of the construction of a transcontinental railroad and has promised to share her hoped-for fortune with her four loyal employees, Eddie, Frank, Sam and Old Tom. Shortly after Johnny arrives, several vigilante ranchers, led by the venomous Emma Small, ride up and accuse Vienna of being part of a gang that robbed the stagecoach and killed her brother, the town's banker. Although Jenks, the stagecoach driver, is unable to identify the four masked gunmen who held him up, Emma, who did not witness the crime, insists the gang led by the Dancin’ Kid, who is Vienna's occasional lover, is reponsible. Because Vienna remains close-mouthed about the Kid and the ranchers feel threatened by the coming of the railroad and Vienna's profiting from it, they are easily roused into greater antagonism against Vienna by Emma’s tirades. After tricking the jealous Emma into revealing her unrequited passion for the Kid and her need for irrational revenge, Vienna boldly stands her ground, until the neurotic Emma vows to kill her. The approach of the Kid and his men escalates the tension, which Johnny tries to break by playing the guitar. The Kid grabs Emma for a dance, but Marshal Williams interrupts to question him about the robbery, refusing to believe that the gang has been mining a secret silver lode, as they claim. Williams gives Vienna twenty-four hours to close up and leave town, but Vienna refuses to be forced out and Johnny pledges to assist her, making the Kid jealous. One of his men, Bart Lonergan, picks a fight with the unarmed Johnny, who nevertheless beats the ruffian in a fistfight. After the establishment clears for the night, Vienna discusses her business plans with Johnny, who is an old flame she has secretly asked to help her. Although they broke up five years before, Johnny wants to revive their relationship. However, Vienna claims that the intervening years have taught her not to love and points out the inequities of gender, which allow a man to lie, steal, kill and retain his pride, while labeling a woman a tramp after one slip. The next day in their mountain hideout, the Kid and his gang wonder which of the many outlaw gangs in the area might have robbed the stagecoach. As their mine has petered out, they are anxious to move to California, and reproach the Kid for hanging around because of Vienna. The Kid counters that he hates to run away from something he did not do, but decides to finance their move by robbing the local bank, as they have already been condemned by the town. Meanwhile, Vienna has decided to pay off her employees, including Johnny, and send them away to safety, until the tension in the town dies down. When she goes to the bank to withdraw funds, the Kid’s gang shows up and robs it, drawing more suspicion on her. A posse quickly forms, which Emma insists on joining, and they pursue the gang, whose escape is complicated by the dynamiting of the pass by railroad workers. In the chase, the teenaged Turkey Ralston, the youngest member of the Kid’s gang, is injured and left behind and, having nowhere else to go, makes his way to Vienna, with whom he is smitten. Old Tom, who has remained behind out of loyalty to Vienna, tries to hide him in the woods, but the posse, urged by Emma, detours there. Although Vienna quickly tries to conceal him, Turkey is soon found. John McIvers, a prosperous rancher in sympathy with Emma, promises Turkey that, if he will confess to Vienna’s participation in the gang, they will not hang him. Turkey is reluctant to accuse Vienna falsely, but she tells him to save himself. However, after he tells the posse what they want to hear, McIvers reneges on his promise and the posse, again aroused by Emma’s incessant fuming, prepares to hang both Turkey and Vienna. In the following struggle, Williams and Old Tom are shot, and the crazed Emma gleefully sets fire to the building. After Turkey is hanged, none of the men are willing to hang Vienna, even for Emma’s generous bribe. Emma attempts the task, but Johnny frees Vienna, and the former lovers hide in the cellar of the burning building. Through a connecting mine shaft, they escape, and the next day show up at the Kid’s lair, where they form an uneasy alliance with the gang. However, Turkey’s horse soon leads the posse to their hiding place, and Bart betrays his cohorts. As the posse nears, gun fighting commences and most of the gang is killed. Soon, realizing that the fight is really between Vienna and the irrational Emma, the posse loses interest. In a final showdown, Emma and Vienna shoot it out, and Emma is killed. The posse takes the captured Kid and Emma’s body down the mountain, followed by Johnny and Vienna, who are now reunited and free.
 

Production Company: Republic Pictures Corp.  
Distribution Company: Republic Pictures Corp.  
Director: Nicholas Ray (Dir)
  Herb Mendelson (Asst dir)
  Jason Lindsey (Dial dir)
Producer: Herbert J. Yates (Pres)
  Nicholas Ray (Prod)
Writer: Philip Yordan (Scr)
Photography: Harry Stradling (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: James Sullivan (Art dir)
Film Editor: Richard L. Van Enger (Film ed)
Set Decoration: John McCarthy Jr. (Set dec)
  Edward G. Boyle (Set dec)
Costumes: Sheila O'Brien (Cost des)
Music: Victor Young (Mus)
Sound: T. A. Carman (Sd)
  Howard Wilson (Sd)
Special Effects: Howard Lydecker (Spec eff)
  Theodore Lydecker (Spec eff)
  Consolidated Film Industries (Opt eff)
Make Up: Bob Mark (Makeup supv)
  Peggy Gray (Hairstylist)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "Johnny Guitar," words and music by Peggy Lee and Victor Young, sung by Peggy Lee; "Old Joe Clark," traditional.
Songs:
Composer: Peggy Lee
  Victor Young
Source Text: Based on the novel Johnny Guitar by Roy Chanslor (New York, 1953).
Authors: Roy Chanslor

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Republic Pictures Corp. 24/3/1954 dd/mm/yyyy LP3978

PCA NO: 16818
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound System
  col: Trucolor
  gauge: 1.66:1

 
Genre: Western
 
Subjects (Major): Arizona
  Gunfighters
  Jealousy
  Rivalry
  Women in business
 
Subjects (Minor): Adolescents
  Bank robberies
  Betrayal
  Death and dying
  Explosions
  Fires
  Gambling houses
  Guitars
  Gunfights
  Love affairs
  Loyalty
  Lynching
  Marshals
  Outlaws
  Railroads
  Ranchers
  Shootouts
  Unrequited love

Note: The opening title cards read: “Herbert J. Yates presents Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar Trucolor by Consolidated." Although Nicholas Ray served as both producer and director of the film, he is credited onscreen only as director. According to an Apr 1954 DV news item, Ray felt he should have been credited as full producer, as he considered Republic’s standard associate producer billing an “office boy equivalent.” When Republic refused to budge from its crediting policy, Ray insisted that his billing as producer be completely dropped.
       According to a modern source, Crawford bought the film rights to the novel Johnny Guitar , and sold them to Republic with the provision that she would star in the picture. Modern sources state that Crawford, in her first Western since M-G-M's 1930 release Modern Moon , wanted Claire Trevor to play the part of “Emma” and was jealous of the younger, competitive Mercedes McCambridge. Modern sources add that newspapers played up the rivalry, and Ray used the women's mutual antagonism to spark their performances.
       According to the MPH review, portions of the film were shot around Sedona, AZ. The MPH review also noted that the title song by Victor Young and Peggy Lee was not the popular song of the same name that was being heard on the radio at the time of the film’s release. Johnny Guitar has become a cult favorite in some circles of film scholarship, because of its unique role-reversing of the standard Western. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   8 May 1954.   
Daily Variety   2 Apr 1954.   
Daily Variety   5 May 54   p. 3.
Film Daily   5 May 54   p. 7.
Hollywood Citizen-News   6 May 1954.   
Hollywood Reporter   20 Aug 1953   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Oct 1953   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Oct 1953   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Dec 1953   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   5 May 54   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   21 May 1954   p. 2.
Los Angeles Times   6 May 1954.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   8 May 54   p. 2285.
New York Times   28 May 54   p. 19.
New Yorker   5 Jun 1954.   
Variety   5 May 54   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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