Johnny Guitar

Sexual repression isn't necessarily a code for homosexuality (or bisexuality, or any form of non-heterosexuality), but when combined with an anti-McCarthyist story as this was, and the director's other works which often deal directly with the subject matter, and it's hard not to see it as such. While Ray might not have intended this to address sexuality, the comparison between the witch hunts for communists and the manner in which America has treated homosexuality make it inevitable. Certain subtextual moments help this--like when the Kid apologizes to Emma after dancing with her, like when she is called out for her hatred's source as sexual repression, like when it all comes down to her and Vienna, like when Bart declares his views on women.

I was prepared to write this one off after the first few minutes. It was just so damned stiff and silly. But as its themes revealed themselves, both of these things started to make sense. The stiffness in some of the performances was probably just awkward acting, but it certainly helped convey the sexual repression present. It's as nice touch in the angry back and forth that they don't seem to move right. They've been forced into a stand still and it shows. The silliness, well, that one was harder. Part of it fades as the show gets more intense, but in part, it works because again, everyone is hiding how they really feel, one way or another, and that brings on falseness, it makes people act funny (I speak from some experience). It's a show.

This film's reputation is made on its anti-McCarthyist angle and its bright colors, so I won't belabor either overly, but to say that Ray has an eye for color and composition. That funereally garbed posse naturally lining up in a triangular formation against Crawford in her saloon, the acrobatic way characters fall and tumble, the brightness of the costumery (especially in the wake of flight and revelation, a coming out of its own), and the whimsy of a waterfall-masked cave all stand out as nods not toward tension nor characterization, but raw wonder. Ray can't put together even a simple Western without deep melodrama and bold craftsmanship.

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