Tuesday, May 11, 2010



The latest excellent adventure in the quirky world of film came at the recommendation Guely of Sweden and RDD, the Hoosier Lawyer. My father in law Wayne and I took a look at the classic western, Johnny Guitar Saturday morning and there were sausage, egg and Tabasco sauce bagels.

Johnny Guitar, directed by Nicholas Ray, ain’t you’re run of the mill cowboy picture; the 1954 movie is a calculated attack on McCarthyism. The title character is played by Sterling Hayden, a blacklisted B movie actor and a decorated World War II veteran. In spite of the title, Johnny Guitar is a kinda cool, kinda goofy supporting character. The women run the show in this flick. Hey, I have five daughters; I’m cool with feminism.

The heroine, played by all time melodrama queen Joan Crawford, gesticulates and shouts and cries constantly at her nemesis played by Mercedes McCambridge. And McCambridge shouts, moans, shakes her fists and overacts right back. McCambridge, who would fittingly go on to serve as the voice of the devil in The Exorcist, plays a sexually repressed loudmouth weirdo, a female version of Tail gunner Joe McCarthy. These opposing crazy broads are reminiscent of the some of the nuns back in my Catholic school days.

The dialogue and musical score are tremendously over the top, giving the film the feel of a B science fiction movie. I kept waiting for the creature to pop out of the lagoon. At times it feels like an opera or a silent movie. I don’t know how to categorize the movie. All I can say it’s as bizarre as hell and it sure doesn’t play like a 1950s western.

The movie is fittingly set against the bizarre red rocks of Sedona. The characters are clad in sharp black and bright blues, reds and whites, bringing about a Disney feel.

Ray smashes the viewer in the noggin with blatant sexual symbolism. The women strap on guns while the parade of waterfalls, caves, trains, blasting storms and raging fires never stop.

Ernie Borgnine heats things up as a ridiculously psychotic and surprise, surprise, sexually repressed bad guy while John Carradine manages to do some legitimate acting in the middle of all of this insanity. First rate character actors like Royal Dano, Scott Brady and Ward Bond keep things interesting.

The dialogue is laugh out loud corny. When Sterling introduces himself as Johnny Guitar a cowboy smirks, “Guitar ain’t no kind of name.” The cowboy’s name is, get this, The Dancin’ Kid. Later in the film The Dancin’ Kid offers Johnny Guitar his hand and Johnny Guitar says, “I never shake hands with a left handed gun.” The line is so campy it’s cool – quirky cool.

The whole darned movie is quirky cool. I liked the darned thing – dammit - and so did my bagel eatin’ movie watchin’ partner, Wayne. Tabasco soaked egg and sausage bagels with a kooky old movie like Johnny Guitar is a way quirky cool way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday morning.