There are a few westerns in the 1940s and 50s which had strong female roles. 1945’s Along Came Jones featured Gary Cooper as easy going Jones who is mistaken for a bad guy except unlike the bad guy Cooper can’t shoot very well. Fortunately Loretta Young can.
There was also Ann Savage in Renegade Girl (1946), several adaptations on the life of Annie Oakley, first in 1935 with Barbara Stanwyck in Annie Oakley and then a musical with the same name in 1950 with Betty Hutton. There were also several Belle Starr films, the first was a silent in 19287 called Court Martial. Gene Tierney played her in Belle Starr (1941) and Isabel Jewell played Starr in Badman’s Territory and Daughter of Belle Starr (both 1946), and Jane Russell was Starr in Montana Belle (1952).
Today’s Sunday Matinee is Johnny Guitar (1954) by director Nicholas Ray. Joan Crawford stars as Vienna, the owner of a saloon in small town in Arizona. Vienna has been fighting with the town. She supports the railway coming by and also lets her one time lover The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady) and his cronies hangout.
Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) comes into town and helps Vienna face down the town after they confront her trying to make her leave town. Crawford’s archenemy is Emma Smalls (Mercedes McCambridge) who hates Vienna and keeps trying to get her kicked out of town. Meanwhile The Dancin’ Kid robs the town bank and Smalls convinces the town that Vienna is to blame too for the robbery. A lynch mob almost gets Vienna but Guitar helps save her. The film leads to final shoot out not between Dancin’ Kid and Guitar but between Vienna and Emma.
The movie wasn’t well received by critics when it came out. Some critics took offence that Joan Crawford wore pants and shot people but the movie did pretty decent with audiences and over time it has been reevaluated by critics. Filmmakers like the late François Truffaut and Martin Scorsese love it. It’s pretty damn good. Sterling Hayden didn’t think much of the film but then he does take a backseat to Joan Crawford despite playing the title character.