This is a school of my own making by the way. Citizen Kane, Forbidden Planet Pressburger and Powell movies and just about anybody's film noir. I may have heard about the movie Johnny Guitar but if I knew that Joan Crawford was in it I would have passed it by.
Independent of her reported personal life I just don't cotton to her as a film star. She is the rough rider. Crawford is either bullet tough or spooky.
Not seeing this movie was a big mistake. Huge. This is one quirky kick-ass movie. It is not a woman's film. This is a film that has women in the lead and the men are in a subordinate character position. And yeah this is a shoot `em up western.
This is a segment of the film where the characters are introducing themselves to the audience. Check it out:
I gotta tell you this is a full flavor western. These women are playing for land, power and control. It is about the railroad, cattle ranchers and the new blood coming into the community.
Cattle ranchers don't like farmers or city folk. They don't want change. They don't want a railroad depot. What would you do to preserve in amber your way of life?
New kid in town sees the future and is getting ready for it. Nobody is going to get in her way. The railroad is the symbol of change, of money and opportunity. It is a way to obtain power and control.
The two lead actresses are fierce. Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge ain't sleep walking through this one. Each one is pitch perfect in their roles.
When you are not focusing on the story the eye notices the beautiful colors, the intensity of colors in the interior and exterior shots. The land is a bright dirt red. The sky a vibrant blue. I'm going to have to watch it again with the sound off just looking at the composition of the shots and the colors.
When we think about the 1950s and films it is brought up as the time of the happy housewife. The time when the men have the adventure and the women stay home waiting tending home and hearth. The movies of that time reflected that attitude.
Not this one. Yes, there is a love object. Sterling Hayden is a fine actor. Subtle. Sometimes he is there in the moment and sometimes he is the focal point of the scene.
I've been mulling this movie over and over again trying to understand the historical place in time, the one in the western and 1954. Much to think about and contemplate.
Anyway this is as good a start as any to Women's History Month.