Joan Crawford borrowed BFF Barbara Stanwyck’s hair and made a western with Nicholas Ray and Sterling Hayden, Not surpsingly, it came out very noir…

JOHNNY GUITAR (1954): Two noir icons, Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden, play ex-lovers Vienna and Johnny brought together by chance in the gambling join owned by Vienna. The local townsfolk, led by Emma Small (played with hysterical glee by Mercedes McCambridge), are trying to force Vienna out of business and out of town. Violence ensues. Dir. Nicholas Ray

Pedro Almodóvar does a wonderful tribute to JOHNNY GUITAR in his film WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN.

Joan Crawford and Nicholas Ray on and off the set of JOHNNY GUITAR.

How can these starkly contrasting performances all be “essentially” noir? Like jazz, film noir could be hot or cool, and often it managed to be both at once. The complex formula evolved over time. In the forties, the hard-boiled style valorized masculine reserve—Bogart’s dry, parrying skepticism; the haunted stoicism of Dana Andrews; the nonchalant underplaying of rough-hewn men like Mitchum and Sterling Hayden, who suspected acting was phony and effeminate. These defenses walled off psychological horrors that erupted in surreal nightmares or surging melodramas. In the later fifties, darkly romantic dreamscapes gave way to fractured portraits of a dehumanized, explosively violent world (Touch of Evil, Blast of Silence). Instead of a lacquered surface that hides corrosive anxiety or aching loss, there is a frenetic burlesque of action concealing a freeze-dried hollowness.

Dark Passages: Tough and Not-So-Tough Guys


Romantic relationships in classic film noir:

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity  (Billy Wilder, 1944)

Virginia Huston and Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past  (Jacques Tourneur, 1947)

Jean Hagen and Sterling Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle  (John Huston, 1950)