Let’s face it, they’re dead and gone. People keep trying to revive them, we’ve got one or two good movies along the way, but the reality is, the Western is dead. Finished. Kaput.
Which didn’t stop people from trying to make space Westerns, like Outland, Space Rage, Oblivion, and (best of all) Firefly. Nor did it stop them from making the post-Apocalyptic Western, although they do tend to blend into the post-Apocalyptic Samurai movie, or the post-Apocalyptic gang brutality film.
You know, like The Road Warrior?
But the truth is that I’m not sure entirely what this Eighties film is trying to do.
It does seem to be set somewhere in a crumbling future world, and we even have a major breakdown of society (caused by something unspectacular, even less spectacular than the end of the world hinted at in The Road Warrior).
But even before this future ends up in this post-Apocalyptic nightmare Western setting, where the evil land baron controls the little town and everyone in it and Johnny Guitar has to come in and clean up the town, there are hints that this isn’t exactly a straightforward future.
For starters, all the cars we see are old. Mostly from the Forties and Fifties.
And in the pre-(total) collapse world (which is already pretty nasty), we find the rather curious and independent office of Sheriff, which the brother of our guitar-playing hero, Wade Holt, inherited from their father. Of course, he keeps telling his brother that he’s got the same impulse in his blood and will someday take his life seriously, settle down and join him in the Sheriff business.
It’s a rather odd sort of mixture of old and new, and that mixture seems to be true of the story as well. Wade’s brother is killed, he is falsely accused of a crime and sent to jail, only to be released because the jail ran out of money. So he goes back to get revenge, only to learn that the bad guy, Hawk, has too much local support for anyone to take him down, in a lengthy sequence out of one of the harder Eighties action movies.
So…Film Noir anyone? Elvis movie? Revenge thriller? Gangster flick?
I don’t know. I suppose they probably ripped off the plot of some classic Western I haven’t seen. Certainly Wade’s music seems more Rockabilly than Western, and that is an electric guitar he’s playing. And, yes, the good girl, bad girl pairing in the film does feel like it came out of a Western, even if they would never have resolved it this way.
At times it seems like a Fifties movie, at others, like a gritty Seventies thriller, and, yes, there are some very Eighties action sequences as well.
I can’t say it’s exactly brilliant, or a must-see film, or a lost treasure, or even a notable minor film. It is more of an oddity, one of those strange but mostly competent movies people made during a time when the movie industry had changed in unexpected ways.
And if you watch it expecting a futuristic Western, you probably will be disappointed…