110 minutes| U.S.A.| 1954| Colour| 35mm

The film opens with a classic Western landscape being ripped apart by a series of explosions – they continue thereafter in the prolonged duel between Vienna (Joan Crawford) and Emma (Mercedes McCambridge). The Western is not a genre known for its feminism, but this one installs two gun-slinging women in the rival gang leader roles. The eponymous Johnny ‘Guitar’ Logan (Sterling Hayden) doesn’t carry a weapon and is a hired hand like all the other men involved in the bitter battle waged and controlled by Vienna and Emma.

Vastly different to the patriarchal Westerns of Ford and Hawks, Nicholas Ray’s film is a sexual drama that is unlike any other Western of the era. It was also a cloaked critique of the Red Scare. Indicative of how the small-minded and vindictive can turn a scared population into a lynch mob, McCambridge’s performance is a perfect depiction of McCarthyism transposed to the screen. For its time (and ours), this is a daring and extraordinary film.

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