Johnny Guitar is a film unlike any other you are likely to encounter. On the surface it is a Western --- beneath that surface are many layers.
My favourite quotes are:
Johnny: Lie to me, tell me you've waited all these years.
Vienna (deadpan): All these years I've waited.
Johnny: Tell me you would have died if I hadn't come back.
Vienna (deadpan): I'd have died if you hadn't come back.
Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.
Vienna (deadpan): I still love you like you love me.
PLOT: The story opens somewhere in the Wild West, set in the late 1800s. Vienna (Joan Crawford) owns the saloon and gambling parlor just outside of town. Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) arrives supposedly to start working for Vienna. The trouble begins when a stagecoach is held up and one of the casualties is the town banker. Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge) is the sister of the victim; besides being angry, she appears to be sexually frustrated as well.
Emma keeps company with John McIvers (Ward Bond). Besides owning most of the land and controlling commerce in the town, together they intimidate almost everyone else --- except Vienna of course. She is independent, runs her own business, and has much bigger plans as soon as the railroad comes. Just the idea of the railroad and the new people it will carry west sets off Emma and McIvers.
Emma and McIvers are convinced that the "Dancin' Kid" (Scott Brady) and his bunch held up the stagecoach and that Vienna is mixed up in it as well. Emma, it seems, also has repressed feelings for the Dancin' Kid, so she is constantly at odds with herself. McIvers takes it upon himself to declare a new law ---"Vienna's" must close and the gang must leave town in 24 hours.
A lot happens in that next 24 hours; it seems Vienna and Johnny have a past together and are not yet finished with each other. The gang has to decide if they should leave town or defy the law. Emma seems to get everyone in her posse to hate Vienna, the Dancin' Kid, and anyone else who represents change in their town.
Today, 60 years later, the movie is now considered a masterpiece. It is full of sexual symbolism and political references (presumably the McCarthy Witch hunts) that poses many questions---
I've never seen a woman who was more a man; she thinks like one, acts like one and sometimes makes me feel like I'm not. Sam describing his employer Vienna.
You want The Kid and you're so ashamed of it, you want him dead. You want me dead, too, then maybe you can sleep nights. Vienna to Emma.
Look at her standing there staring down at us like she's a somebody. Emma to Vienna.
You're nothing but a railroad tramp, not fit enough to live among decent people. Emma to Vienna.
I intend to be buried here. In the 20th century. Vienna to Emma and the posse.
Down there I sell whiskey and cards. All you can buy up here is a bullet in the head---now which do you want? Vienna to the posse.
When you boil it all down, what does a man really need? Just a smoke and a cup of coffee. Johnny to the posse.
When a man can't hold onto a glass he should drink like a baby from a bottle. Open your mouth, Guitar Man, I'll feed you. Ernest Borgnine's character to Johnny.
Five years ago I met you in a saloon, now I find you in one. Johnny to Vienna.
I'm not ashamed of how I've got what I have. The important thing is I've got it. Vienna to Johnny.
A man can lie, steal, and even kill, but just as long as he can hold onto his pride he's still a man. All a woman has to do is slip once and she's a tramp. Must be a great comfort to you to be a man. Vienna to Johnny.
Lie to me, tell me all those years you've waited. Johnny to Vienna.
He makes her feel like a woman and that frightens her. Vienna to Johnny, describing Emma's feelings for The Kid.
A posse is an animal, moves like one, thinks like one. Johnny to Vienna.
You're acting like she's some fine lady and doing nothing makes you fine gentlemen --- well, she ain't and you're not. Emma to the posse, describing Vienna.
Boys who play with guns have to be ready to die like men. Vienna to John Carradine's and Ben Cooper's characters.
I'm sitting here in my own house, minding my own business, and playing my own piano--- I don't think you can make a crime out of that. Vienna to the posse.
Nice fella. You've finally got someone to do your shooting for you. That ought to make you real happy. The Kid to Vienna.
We've both done a lot of living; our problem now is how to do a little more. Vienna to Johnny.