Nicholas Ray western that hasn't been said before. Influenced by the postwar moodiness of film noir, it pushed its genre into bold, new, abstract terrain -- more shadow than sun, baroque, symbolic, sociological, psychological, even psychosexual -- while also making veiled remarks about the political realities of its day. (This is a fact that becomes more compelling, given the central presence of Sterling Hayden, one of those actors who cooperated with the HUAC "Hollywood blacklist" investigations, who looks only slightly less haunted here than he did in screen appearances after he named names.) It's also poetical, but westerns have always had something poetical about them if you know where to look. All this substance helps a great deal to obscure the fact that, at least to my ears, it's one of the few great westerns that lacks the great score it deserves.
Watching JOHNNY GUITAR again, for the first time in many years, I found myself wishing it was just a little different, modified just enough so that Johnny could be seen as a returning Cheyenne and Vienna could be seen as Jill in a before-the-fact sequel to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, both a bit older and more disappointed by life (and each other), and still waiting for those rails out of town that will make all the difference to their lives. But even without that, the spirit of these characters are somehow manifest in the Leone principals. Jam-packed with the good stuff: Ernest Borgnine, John Carradine, Ward Bond, Mercedes McCambridge seething with hatred and perhaps lesbian jealousy. Oh, and Scott Brady was never better.
Viewed via Olive Films' DVD, also available on Blu-ray.