"Johnny Guitar" is one of those classic westerns that has maintained its status by reinventing itself every decade since its release in 1954. Directed by Nicholas Ray ("Rebel Without A Cause"), aficienados labelit a teen opera dressed up in western gear, while conspiracy theorists maintain that the entire movie is an extended allegory for the McCarthy witch hunt, right down to the lead actress' red shirt and the lefty gunslinger. But even without the extra layer of symbolism, "Johnny Guitar" can be appreciated as an over-the-top western, thanks to the guns-a-blazin' performance by Joan Crawford as Vienna, a saloon operator in post-Civil War Arizona who is looking to make big money once the railroad comes through town.
There are any number of conflicts that play out in "Johnny Guitar," but the key one is the sexual catfight that develops between Vienna and Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), a cattle rancher who doesn't want the railroad to destabilize her power base. More to the point, Emma has the hots for the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady), who only has eyes for Vienna.
There are plenty of famous sequences in the film, including Vienna playing the piano in her white gown as she stands up to the angry lynch mob, and the final shootout, where Emma wings her arch-rival before Vienna pumps her full of lead?using her left hand, of course.
3 1/2 stars
Sunday, July 14, at 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday, July 16, at 8 p.m. at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., Chicago. Tickets are $8.