Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Johnny Guitar (1954)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Johnny Guitar (1954)

In Nicholas Ray's off-beat Western and bizarre psychological film for Republic Pictures, often called a 'lesbian western' (with major role-reversals) and a visually-excessive melodrama; it was an astonishing, and unusual one-of-a-kind camp cult classic rife with political allegory, repressed Freudian themes (guns as phallic symbols), and gender-confusion; it was also presented as veiled commentary on the anti-communist McCarthy hearings and the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee at the time:

  • in the 1800s, gun-crazed drifter and reformed gunslinger Johnny "Guitar" Logan (Sterling Hayden) with a guitar strung over his shoulder, after witnessing a stagecoach robbery along the way, arrived in a small Arizona cattle town from Albuquerque, NM during a fierce sandstorm; he entered into Vienna's - a deserted gambling saloon
  • the owner of the empty Arizona saloon "with no customers" was a non-conformist, strong-willed, drag-queen-looking Vienna (Joan Crawford), who briefly appeared on an upper balcony; she often wore masculine clothes: a black shirt, a string tie around her collar, pants, and boots; she was described as very manly by one of her four employees - her saloonkeeper employee Sam (Robert Osterloh): "I've never seen a woman who was more a man. She thinks like one, acts like one. It sometimes makes me feel like I'm not"

Group of Vigilantes in Saloon to Confront Vienna

John McIvers (Ward Bond)

Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge)

Marshal Williams (Frank Ferguson)
  • Vienna had built her gambling saloon on the outskirts of town in lucrative anticipation of the transcontinental railroad coming through with a station nearby
  • shortly after Johnny's arrival, news of the robbery of the stagecoach by a gang of four unidentified masked outlaws was brought to Vienna's by a group of intolerant 'good guy' vigilantes (composed mostly of cattle ranchers); they entered the saloon to confront Vienna; the male vigilantes were led by blood-lusting, mean-spirited, sexually-repressed, bull-dyke rancher Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), who displayed hostility, vengefulness and animosity toward Vienna's opportunistic casino and gambling hall
  • Emma was upset that her brother Leonard Small (the President of the town's bank) was killed during the robbery; the body was laid out as she harshly spoke to Vienna: ("He was one man who never even looked at you")
  • the group, including influential and wealthy cattle rancher John McIvers (Ward Bond) accused Vienna of collusion with the suspected gunslinger leader of the gang ("You're one of them") that had been accused of the robbery, the Dancin' Kid [Note: the Dancin' Kid often protectively hung out in Vienna's saloon and was saloon-owner Vienna's occasional former lover]; unproven accusations were made against Vienna for supporting the gang, and against the Dancin' Kid for the crime; the stagecoach driver Jenks (Trevor Bardette) reluctantly admitted to the town's Marshal Williams (Frank Ferguson) that the sun was in his eyes and he couldn't definitively identify the gang leader
  • part of Emma's hostility and jealousy arose from her own "twisted" romantic interest in the Dancin' Kid, who wasn't romantically interested in her, but as Emma recalled: "He was always eyeing me"; Vienna hinted: "Maybe you don't hate him" [Note: later in the film, it was hypothesized why Emma loved the outlaw: "He makes her feel like a woman, and that frightens her"]; Emma mistakenly postulated: "Now he thinks he can get me," but Vienna suggested another alternative reason: "Now you think you can get him....You want the Kid, and you're so ashamed of it, you want him dead"
  • in fact, Emma wanted both the Dancin' Kid and Vienna dead - and then insulted Vienna: "You're nothing but a railroad tramp. You're not fit to live among decent people"; Vienna slowly descended the stairs of her casino with a gun; she spoke back against the many "determined" individuals in the group who were opposed to the railroad bringing in "dirt farmers" and "squatters" who would fence off and subdivide the land (with fence posts and barbed wire), push out the ranchers, and support her business; she cautioned the antagonistic intruders against trying to run her out: "We're here to stay, Mr. McIvers...This was free country when I came. I'm not giving up a single foot of it...."
Saloon Owner Vienna - Confronting Vigilantes Led by Rival Rancher Emma Small

Vienna: "Come and get me, Mr. McIvers"

Emma: "I'm going to kill you"

Vienna: "I know, If I don't kill you first"
  • Vienna continued: "Down there, I sell whiskey and cards. All you can buy up these stairs is a bullet in the head. Now which do you want?"; Emma and Vienna stood face-to-face and issued mutual warnings: Emma: "I'm going to kill you" - Vienna replied: "I know, if I don't kill you first!"
  • when the Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady) entered the saloon with his three gang members, and Johnny Guitar appeared from the back room, Johnny defused the tension by asserting his simple comforts in life: "There's nothing like a good smoke and a cup of coffee," and then strummed his guitar as the Dancin' Kid unexpectedly grabbed a surprised Emma for an impromptu dance
  • afterwards, the Marshal refused to believe the Dancin' Kid's claim that his gang, at the time of the robbery, was mining a secret silver lode, and not breaking the law; the suspicious McIvers unfairly allowed Vienna only 24 hours to close up her casino on the outskirts of town and leave: ("I'm passing a law against gambling and drinking anyplace outside the town limits. That law goes into effect in 24 hours"); both the Marshal and Vienna disagreed and refused to obey such an unreasonable and unilateral law: (Vienna: "You got no call asking us to leave")
  • afterwards, Johnny promised to remain in town, back Vienna up and work for her business - as a guitar player and as a gunfighter: ("Well, a man's gotta plant roots somewhere. This seems like a nice, quiet place, friendly too"); the trouble-maker Dancin' Kid was immediately riled up and became intensely jealous; to back up his gang leader, Bart Lonergan (Ernest Borgnine) provoked a brawling, unarmed fist-fight outdoors with Johnny - and lost
  • shortly later, Vienna and her ex-lover Johnny - who had been lovers five years earlier - spoke about her struggle to build the casino; Vienna mentioned how being a forthright female establishing and running a business in the West meant being treated with an unfair double standard: "A man can lie, steal and even kill, but as long as he hangs onto his pride, he's still a man. All a woman has to do is slip once - and she's a tramp. It must be a great comfort to you to be a man"
  • an extended 'love scene' throughout the remainder of the evening occurred between Vienna and Johnny although it was mostly a relationship of attraction and repulsion; Johnny was obviously interested in reviving their romance, and hoped she had been waiting for him; however, Vienna wasn't sure about reviving their relationship after their earlier break-up: "Did you honestly believe, after five years, I'd be waiting for you?"; Johnny told how he had to settle down somewhere: "A man's gotta stop somewhere. This seems as good a spot as any"
  • Vienna recalled: "Five years ago, I loved a man. He wasn't good, he wasn't bad, but I loved him. I wanted to marry him, to work with him, to build something for the future"; Johnny interjected: "They should have lived happily ever after"; Vienna continued: "They didn't. They broke up. He couldn't see himself being tied down to a home"; she summarized how she now felt about loving him again: "She learned not to love anybody again"; he noted that after five years "there must have been quite a few men in between," but she claimed there was no chance for them, because the flames of their romance had burned out
  • after returning to their secret mountain hideout, the Dancin' Kid with his gang wondered who might have robbed the stagecoach; the gang was ready to move to California after their silver mine had failed; the only reason for remaining in the area appeared to be the Kid's feelings for Vienna; the Kid suggested a self-fulfilling prophecy - that they finance their trip by actually committing a crime the next day (the local town's bank robbery) that they could be hanged for
  • later that night in the saloon-casino during a continuation of their conversation, Johnny asked Vienna: "How many men have you forgotten?"; she responded: "As many women as you've remembered"; he asked for her to tell him something "nice" by repeating back each of his loving phrases : "Lie to me. Tell me all these years you've waited....Tell me you'd have died if I hadn't come back...Tell me you still love me like I love you"; when she was forced to comply and mimic his words (without any emotion or feeling), he briskly and disgustedly said: "Thanks. Thanks a lot!"
  • Vienna smashed Johnny's drink glass, and refused to let Johnny feel sorry for himself; she recalled how hard she had struggled on her own to build her saloon, and that life was now very different; she explained how she had grown much stronger in the interim: "You think you had it rough? I didn't find this place. I had to build it. How do you think I was able to do that?... I want you to know. For every board, plank and beam in this place... you're going to listen...You can't shut me up, Johnny. Not any more. Once I would have crawled at your feet to be near you. I searched for you in every man I met"
  • Johnny claimed that they could still be married and end the 'bad dream': "It's just like it was five years ago. Nothing's happened in between...Not a thing. You've got nothin' to tell me, cuz it's not real. Only you and me, that's real. We're havin' a drink at the bar in the Aurora Hotel. The band is playing, we're celebrating 'cause we're getting married. And after the wedding, we're getting out of this hotel and we're going away. So laugh, Vienna, and be happy. It's your wedding day"
  • Vienna finally agreed that she had indeed waited for him, and was finally relieved for his return: "What took you so long?" and she sobbed in his arms as she kissed him
  • the next day, Vienna decided to visit the town's bank to close her account and withdraw all her funds to pay off her employees (including Johnny) and send them away for six months until the town had cooled off and stopped condemning her; she was implicated in the town's bank robbery when she suspiciously happened to be inside the bank during the heist by the Dancin' Kid's gang, although she tried to dissuade the Kid from carrying through on the robbery; the unarmed Johnny was outside the bank and calmly watched the theft in progress; he declined to get involved and told the Kid: "Besides, I'm a stranger here myself" - a good description of his own identity
  • Emma and her vigilante mob (with McIvers) again formed a posse to seize both the Dancin' Kid's gang and Vienna and punish them for the crime; meanwhile, Johnny promised to remain and defend Vienna who insisted on staying and fighting (without killing) the mob; however, Vienna decided to dismiss him for his "gun-crazy" nature ("It was a mistake to send for you, Johnny")
  • during the gang's flight on a trail through a dynamited and blocked mountain pass, the gang was forced to return to their hideout-lair; the youngest gang member - boyish-faced Turkey Ralston (Ben Cooper), fell off his horse and later was brought to Vienna who cared for his injuries in the saloon

Injured Turkey Cared For by Vienna in Saloon

Classic Image: Vienna Playing the Piano As the Posse Arrived to Question Her

Vienna: "I held up no stagecoach, I robbed no bank"
  • the posse confronted Vienna in her closed saloon (who was playing her piano); when they asked her to reveal the location of the gang's lair, she refused; she accused them of breaking into her home and having "angry faces and evil minds"; she also claimed that she was completely innocent: ("I held up no stagecoach, I robbed no bank"); however, Turkey was found hiding under one of her tables, belying her words
  • in order to save his own life, Turkey was threatened by McIvers and Emma to falsely accuse Vienna of complicity in the Dancin' Kid's bank robbery; after Turkey cooperated and blamed Vienna, the posse-mob was still prepared to lynch both Turkey and Vienna, and burn down Vienna's casino-saloon; Turkey was hanged and Vienna's saloon was burned to the ground, but the mob was reluctant to hang Vienna, even after Emma had generously offered a bribe of $100 dollars; in the nick of time, Johnny Guitar cut Vienna free and rescued her from the lynch-happy posse of vigilantes led by Emma - the two evaded capture, hid in the cellar of the burning saloon, and eventually made it to the Dancin' Kid's secret hideaway cabin the next day
  • in the film's show-down challenge and ending, the posse found its way to the secret cabin through a hidden waterfall entry; dissension within the gang caused Bart (who had betrayed the gang) to knife co-gang member Corey in the back; Johnny retaliated and killed Bart as the posse surrounded the cabin; McIvers and the others decided to quit firing and let Emma and Vienna shoot it out alone
  • Emma and Vienna faced off with a bloody one-on-one pistol duel on the outer porch of the cabin; in the midst of their shoot-out, the Dancin' Kid died from a gunshot to the forehead by Emma as he raced up to the cabin; although Vienna was wounded in the right upper arm, she shot and killed Emma who tumbled off the porch and rolled down the hill
The Final Challenge and Face-Off Between Vienna and Emma

"I'm comin' up, Vienna"

"I'm waiting"

Standoff on the Porch

The Dancin' Kid Shot in the Forehead by Emma

Emma Shot and Killed by Vienna

Survivors: Johnny and Vienna
  • Johnny helped Vienna to walk past the posse, through the waterfall and away for a new life, as Peggy Lee sang the title song "Johnny Guitar" with the words: "There was never a man like my Johnny"

Gunslinger Johnny Guitar Arriving at Vienna's Arizona Gambling Saloon

Johnny "Guitar" Logan (Sterling Hayden)

Vienna (Joan Crawford)

The Dancin' Kid (Scott Brady)

Gang Members (l to r): Bart Lonergan (Ernest Borgnine) and Turkey Ralston (Ben Cooper)

Corey (Royal Dano)

A Revival of Johnny's and Vienna's Romance From 5 Years Earlier

Johnny Outside the Bank During the Gang's Robbery: "I'm a stranger here myself"

Dancin' Kid Robbing the Bank

Emma Joining Posse-Mob to Pursue the Dancin' Kid's Gang - and Vienna

The Black-Hatted Posse Chasing the Gang

The Shrewd Emma Inciting the Mob-Posse to Violence

Turkey Forced to Condemn Vienna

The Burning of Vienna's Casino

Turkey's Hanging

Emma's Lynch Mob Posse


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