To say that Johnny Guitar is simply a western is to ignore its quite substantial and not overly implicit meaning. Indeed much of what is going on in Nicholas Ray's film is happening underneath its shallow— and by this, I don't mean banal—surface. But to read Bosley Crowther's New York Times review of May 28, 1954, one would expect this film to be just another horse opera, and a rather weak one at that.
...Joan Crawford plays essentially the role that Van Heflin played in Shane...The only big difference in the character, as plainly rewritten for her, is that now it falls in love with the ex-gunfighter, whom Sterling Hayden here plays.Ouch, I think I cut myself with one of Crowther's metaphorical shavers.
But this condescension to Miss Crawford and her technically recognized sex does nothing more for the picture than give it some academic aspects of romance. No more femininity comes from her than from the rugged Mr. Heflin in Shane. For the lady, as usual, is as sexless as the lions on the public library steps and as sharp and romantically forbidding as a package of unwrapped razor blades.
To read the rest of review at Decisions at Sundown click here.