Johnny Guitar (1954)

For almost any other director, having to work with the low budgets at B-movie studio Republic Pictures would have been a drawback. For Nicholas Ray, it was a chance to triumph over adversity. He did just that with this utterly amazing Western that manages to combine Freudian psychology, feminism and an attack on McCarthyism in just under two hours. The plot centers on a stagecoach robbery, with cattle baron Emma (Mercedes McCambridge) trying to pin the crime on saloon owner Vienna (Joan Crawford), partly to get her land, which lies near a projected rail line, and partly because of some unstated sexual obsession. Crawford bought the rights to Roy Chanslor’s novel and hired Ray, whose direction elevated the film way beyond its meager budget. She wanted Claire Trevor to play Emma, but settled for recent Oscar winner McCambridge, only to decide the younger actress was out to upstage her—she does steal just about everything but the trees in the forest scenes.

Dir. Nicholas Ray

In attendance: Michael Schlesinger