Johnny Guitar appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie looked pretty good.
Sharpness generally appeared positive, but some softness crept in at times. Initially I thought this stemmed from loose focus to preserve the roughly 50-year-old Joan Crawford’s ego, but inconsistency in that regard changed my mind. In any case, most of the movie seemed well-defined.
I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement remained absent. With a nice layer of grain, digital noise reduction wasn’t a concern, and print flaws seemed minor. I noted a couple of small specks but nothing more.
Colors were strong. Most Westerns tend toward a sandy palette, and that was the case here as well to a degree, but the elements opened up for a variety of brighter hues. These looked lush and vivid in fine fashion.
Blacks seemed deep and dense without too much heaviness. Shadow detail worked similarly well, as dimly-lit shots were appropriately clear and thick. Overall, I thought the Blu-ray brought the movie to life in a positive manner.
I thought the DTS-HD MA monaural audio of Guitar was perfectly adequate for its age. It didn’t exceed expectations for a mix of its era, but the audio was more than acceptable. Speech lacked edginess. The lines weren’t exactly natural, but they seemed distinctive and without problems.
Effects were a little flat, but they showed no distortion and displayed acceptable definition. Music was pretty lively given its age, as the score sounded reasonably bright and concise. All together, I found the soundtrack aged pretty well.
This “Olive Signature” edition of Guitar comes with a mix of extras, and these launch with an audio commentary from critic Geoff Andrew. He offers a running, screen-specific look at cast and crew, production areas and interpretation.
In other words, Andrew brings us a fairly typical “historian commentary”. He does this reasonably well, but I can’t claim Andrew even turns this into a great chat. Still, he covers the movie in a positive manner, so the track deserves a listen.
For perspective from a legendary filmmaker, we find an introduction by Martin Scorsese. In the three-minute, 28-second clip, Scorsese tells us a little about director Nicholas Ray as well as interpretation of the film itself. Scorsese offers a few insights.
During the 17-minute, 29-second A Western Like No Others, we hear from critics Miriam Bale, Kent Jones, Joe McElhaney and B. Ruby Rich. They look at visual design and symbolism, color usage, costumes, and interpretation. “Others” gives us a reasonable overview of its subject matter.
A Feminist Western? runs 14 minutes, 33 seconds and provides more thoughts from Bale, Jones, McElhaney and Rich. Here they examine the movie’s female-centered areas, with more introspection and interpretation. It becomes another useful take on its topics.
Next comes Tell Us She Was One of You, a 10-minute, 23-second piece with historian Larry Ceplair and screenwriter Walter Bernstein. “You” focuses on the Hollywood Blacklist, as it discusses that history. Good facts emerge here, especially since Bernstein offers his personal perspective on how the Blacklist impacted him.
Another look at history, Free Republic goes for six minutes, one second, and involves archivist Marc Wanamaker. “Free” gives us information about Republic Pictures, with an emphasis on how the studio connected to Johnny Guitar. We find a short but interesting summary.
In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc finishes with My Friend, The American Friend. It lasts 11 minutes, seven seconds and provides notes from Tom Farrell and Chris Sievernich. Both share their memories of director Nicholas Ray via their experiences with him late in his life. This feels like the least informative of the featurettes, but it still manages some decent material.
The package also includes a booklet. It features photos and a Jonathan Rosenbaum essay called “The First Existential Western”. The booklet adds value to the set. (Note that the essay also appears as a text feature on the Blu-ray itself.)
Would I classify Johnny Guitar as one of the all-time great Westerns? No, but it still offers a strong tale with intriguing twists and involving characters. The Blu-ray brings us mostly good picture and audio as well as a fairly informative set of supplements. Guitar holds up well after more than 60 years.