Paramount Pictures’ Johnny Guitar has returned to UK cinemas, screening from a new 4K restoration. Opening at the BFI Southbank and selected sites nationwide, Johnny Guitar features as one of the key titles in the BFI’s Psychological Westerns season, running throughout May.
Heightened, unconventional and subsequently problematic on its initial release, Johnny Guitar is a typically askew take on genre and form from Nicholas Ray. Displacing the film’s central dramatic tension into the fraught rivalry between its two female leads – played with spiteful gusto by Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge – and forgoing the usual Western landscape for a series of hyper-stylised sets shot in lurid Trucolor, Ray created one of the definitive anti-Westerns; a bold visual experiment that has grown in stature to accommodate analyses of lesbianism, McCarthyist mob mentality and more.
A savvy saloon owner and a formidable businesswoman, Vienna (Joan Creaford) has already built a successful gambling den in the wilds of frontier Arizona, but hopes to expand her operation with the imminent arrival of the railroad. Her plans, however, raise the ire of the neighbouring townsfolk who are determined to keep the area open for cattle and who take exception to the saloon’s clientele. When an erstwhile gunslinger, Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), rides into the middle of the standoff and falls in love with Vienna, he is forced to strap on his gun once again to protect her from the angry locals. Ostensibly led by a cattle boss, but driven on by Vienna’s bitter rival Emma (Mercedes McCambridge) ,the mob brings together a posse to shut the saloon down and force Vienna out of the territory.
Released in a new 4K restoration, Johnny Guitar will return to cinemas across the UK from 6 May, opening at BFI Southbank and selected sites nationwide.