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Ray, Nicholas (1911-1979)  
 
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As Pamela Robertson has pointed out, Emma has many of the distinctive qualities of the butch women in lesbian pulp novels of the 1950s. Emma's lack of interest in men is emphasized at several points, as she repeatedly indicates that she has never been involved with a man. When the Kid insists upon dancing with her, she flails her arms and tries to push him away.

In contrast to Emma, Vienna exhibits an extraordinary degree of gender fluidity. While Emma might be the archetypal butch lesbian, Vienna switches freely between butch and femme roles. Lesbian viewers have long recognized the iconic stature of Crawford's performance as Vienna.

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In the opening scenes, Vienna walks in a rather stiff, masculine fashion, and she wears a tailored shirt (with shoulder pads), pants, and gun holster. Only her vivid red lipstick identifies her as female. Describing her as more of a man than anyone he has known, one of her employees also indicates that she challenges his own manliness.

Throughout the middle scenes, Vienna wears conventionally feminine clothing, a sexy red negligee during a romantic interlude with Johnny and an ornate white lace gown while awaiting the arrival of Emma's posse. When dressed in these costumes, Vienna speaks in a relatively soft tone and moves in a more sensual way.

In the final scenes, Vienna's costume and manner combine masculine and feminine elements. While she again wears a shirt and pants, these are made of a shimmering fabric, and they have a slightly feminine cut. Further, while still conveying strength and authority, her gestures and speech pattern are infused with a distinct undertone of gentleness.

In comparison with the book, Ray reduced the role of the title character, but Johnny remains an essential signifier of his gender-bending intentions. Under Ray's direction, Hayden eloquently reveals his vulnerability and tenderness. As played by the deep-voiced, muscular Hayden, Johnny never loses his masculine authority. Although Johnny's gentle demeanor occasionally suffices to diffuse tension, he takes forceful action when necessary.

Although many commentators have noted the relevance of Emma and Vienna to lesbian viewers, the potential significance of Johnny/Hayden for gay male viewers has been overlooked. Nevertheless, this gender-bending figure must have appealed to queer men in the 1950s.

At the time of its initial release, most American critics mocked Ray's bold revision of the western. However, the general movie-going public was enthusiastic and made it one of Ray's most popular and financially successful films. His baroque reinterpretation of the western has influenced numerous later filmmakers, including Sergio Leone and Martin Scorsese.

Despite this commercial success, the pattern of Ray's career did not change significantly from what it had been at RKO. His next picture Run for Cover (1954) adhered to the western conventions that he challenged in Johnny Guitar.

Rebel without a Cause

Ray spent much of 1954 developing Rebel without a Cause, which was filmed and released in 1955. Executives at Warner Brothers encouraged this treatment of juvenile delinquency because of the popularity of Richard Brooks's Blackboard Jungle (1955) and other current films involving teenage crime. In contrast to these, however, Rebel focused on juvenile delinquency in prosperous suburbs rather than in inner cities. Ray structured the film around several pivotal violent events, including a knife fight, a "chickie run" (a car race toward the edge of a cliff), and a climactic shoot-out.

Like Johnny Guitar, teenager Jim Stark (James Dean) disdains violence, but he is under pressure from both parents and peers to behave in an assertive "masculine" fashion. His family has repeatedly moved from one community to another in an attempt to find a place where he can fit in. When mocked as a chicken because of his gentleness, he has lashed out violently at those taunting him.

As several commentators have emphasized, Jim has difficulty developing a stable masculine persona because his weak-willed father (Jim Backus) is a poor role model. In one crucial encounter with his son, Mr. Stark wears a frilly woman's apron. Yet, queer viewers may wonder if the problematic aspects of Jim's home environment suffice to explain his anguish. As Marie Cartier has observed, Jim seems to be speaking for all troubled queer youth when he declares to the police detective (not coincidentally named Ray) that he would be happy if he could have one day when he did not feel confused and ashamed.

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