Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
May 27
Johnny Guitar May 27, 1954
Johnny Guitar released

"Johnny Guitar is a phony Western, but not an ‘intellectual’ one," wrote the French filmmaker and critic François Truffaut about Nicholas Ray’s film, which opened May 27, 1954. "It is… a fairy tale, a hallucinatory Western…. Johnny Guitar is the Beauty and the Beast of Westerns, a Western dream. The cowboys vanish and die with the grace of ballerinas." Indeed, while many more conventional Westerns of the period have been forgotten, Johnny Guitar, with its bold colors, unconventional plotting, and psychosexual undercurrents, remains a highly influential film. The film stars Joan Crawford as Vienna, a saloon owner whose relationship with a former bandit, Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), makes her the pariah of her small town. When the local bank is robbed, she’s suspected of having something to do with it, and she’s hunted down by a mob led by her nemesis, Emma, played by Mercedes McCambridge. With threadbare sets, generally low production values, and haphazard plotting, the movie makes its mark by its replacement of naturalism with a story carried along by a psychodrama hinted at through the characters’ costumes, dialogue and attitudes. As the former gunslinger, the emasculated Hayden carries around a guitar, not a pistol. The critic James Harvey described the character of Emma as "a walking hard-on. And as for Crawford, her character is clearly bisexual." Regarding the costumes, wrote Roger Ebert: "Both women wear fetishistic black leather, silk and denim costumes that would have been familiar enough to students of 1954 pornography: The tightly corseted waists, the high boots, the long shirts, the tight bodices, the lash of lipstick; give us Meg Myles in Satan in High Heels." One director clearly inspired by Johnny Guitar is Pedro Almodóvar, who used a key scene from the film as the basis of a crucial moment in his Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. In Almodóvar’s film, the heroine, Pepe (Carmen Maura) and her lover play dubbing actors scheduled to voice what the director called Johnny Guitar’s “marvelous, heart-rending love scene.” After Ivan breaks up with Pepe, he goes to the dubbing studio early so as not to run into her while dubbing Hayden’s dialogue. “Lie to me and tell me that you still love me the way I love you,” he says — words that Pepe sadly replays to herself later over headphones as she fills in the conversation with her own recording of Crawford’s dialogue.


More Flashbacks
May 27, 1894
Dashiell Hammett born

Though Raymond Chandler overshadowed him ultimately, it was Dashiell Hammett - who was born today in 1894 - who pioneered the hardboiled detective novel as an art form. Unlike Chandler, Hammet never gravitated towards Hollywood to capitalize on the better pay that screenwriting work provided but nevertheless left his mark on the movies.

Read more »