May 30, 1954 [Johnny Guitar]

When the truth finally comes out, and Oedipus knows what he's done, his wife-mother yelps her despair and sprints to her jewels and the cutting comfort they offer--and Oedipus unwinds them from her neck like a mad surgeon laying hold of his instruments, and goes to work until the lights go out.

They wouldn't have lasted five minutes in Johnny Guitar.

Nicholas Ray splashes bloody red all over Joan Crawford, who draws herself up like a praying--preying?--mantis--maybe the latter, since prayers don't seem to be in her eyes--but not simple predation, either--no Vamp she, but a true Western hero, standing her ground.  Mercedes McCambridge scowls on the other side of the room, grows wild, like the barroom villains of saner Westerns--while the good guys wear black, and the bad guys sleep with the heroine--Crawford's Vienna running her saloon as though it were Tara, a legacy and a dream, hewn from rock and just waiting to be burned to the ground.

The psychology of sex roars along, tragic--like the Greeks, like Freud--because no one quite understands themselves, or each other.  Sterling Hayden as Johnny Guitar captures this perfectly, his retired gunslinger embarrassed that he needs to be a good man, so tall he has to duck.  But they all wear stiff clothes and masks, and stride as though Sophocles had drawn a map to the Dancin' Kid's secret hideout, where the men hang back while the women shoot it out, ids and egos strewn all over the place.


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