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U.S., 1954
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Adapted from the novel by Roy Chanslor
With Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Scott Brady, Ernest Borgnine
Cinematography by Harry Stradling
Approx. 110 min. DCP.

“How many men have you forgotten?” “As many women as you remember.” In a dusty Arizona town, Joan Crawford’s pants-wearing, gun-toting saloon owner stands to rake in the dough when the railroad comes through. But when the stage is robbed and a rancher murdered, the townspeople ready a noose for her more-than-friend The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady), with insanely jealous cattle baroness Mercedes McCambridge (years later the voice of the Devil in THE EXORCIST) hell-bent on having Crawford join him. Enter Joan’s old flame Sterling Hayden, as the eponymous Johnny, who, despite preferring guitar-play over gun-play — and up against bad guys like Ernest Borgnine and Ward Bond — does what a man’s gotta do.

Nick Ray’s baroque, emotionally tormented Western bursts at the seams with sexual tension and anti-McCarthy allegory. American reviewers scratched their heads (British critic Gavin lambert deemed it one of the silliest films of the year), but it was immediately embraced by the young critics of Cahiers du Cinéma – among them future directors Eric Rohmer (“Ray is the poet of love and violence”), Jean-Luc Godard (“here is something which exists only in cinema”), and François Truffaut (“dream-like, magical, delirious… the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST of the Western”).


“THE GREATEST GAY CAMP COWGIRL FILM EVER MADE. But how is it that the film is actively laughing at the male figures, and not simply presenting them in an unusual manner? Furthermore, why are the two female leads not simply pioneers in the "strong female character" trope, but probably lesbian-coded rivals engaging in a catfight so charged it would make Andrew Lloyd Webber blush? It comes down to two things: camp and style (same difference). While this isn't the kind of movie where every line of dialogue is innuendo-packed or loaded with blatant sexual subtext, Ray's staging, managing of cheap production, and directing of the actors combine to blast the story into the realm of bizarre psychosexual drama without losing any of the sincerity required of pop Western mythology.”
– Jacob Slankard, Collider

“JOAN CRAWFORD AND STERLING HAYDEN GIVE TWO OF THE STRONGEST PERFORMANCES EVER FILMED! Hayden has the coolest delivery in classic Hollywood, and it clashes gloriously with the overwhelming heat of Crawford’s ferocious stillness and blowtorch stare.”
– Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“MAGNIFICENTLY BIZARRE! Take a chance and surrender to the most deliriously weird Western ever made.”
– Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out

“EXQUISITELY RESTORED! A slyly radical psychosexual oddity busting through genre conventions.”
Village Voice

Film Forum