A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
Because aging boxer Bill Thompson always lost his past fights, his corrupt manager, without telling Thompson, takes bribes from a betting gangster, to ensure Thompson's pre-arranged dive-loss in the next match.
Since he was a child, Bart Tare has always loved guns. After leaving the army, his friends take him to a carnival, where he meets the perfect girl, Annie, a sharp-shooting sideshow performer who loves guns as much as he. The two run off and marry, but Annie isn't happy with their financial situation, so at her behest the couple begins a crosscountry string of daring robberies. Never one to use guns for killing, Bart is dragged down into oblivion by the greedy and violent nature of the woman he loves. Written by
Martin Lewison <email@example.com>
"Bart, I've been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I'm gonna start kicking back."
At the time, such an idea of having the heroes being the criminals was un-heard of, but Joseph H. Lewis's film deservedly has its claim of being the little B-movie that could (forgive the mechanical analogy) by inspiring the French new-wave and other films like Bonnie & Clyde. The idea of having a tragic love story pitted in the middle of noir facade was also seen in the equally powerful low-budget They Live by Night. But while Nicholas Ray's film is more impressive on its emotional stakes, Gun Crazy rakes up points for some of its technical achievements. The style implemented by Lewis and DP Russel Harlan (also responsible for the great photography in Red River) adds excitement to the more suspenseful, even violent scenes, and adds some sentiment to the softer ones involving the couple. And I love the scenes where young Bart can't seem to put away his fascination with guns.
Bart (John Dall) starts off as a boy, and in some of these early scenes (some of the best in the film), we see how he is changed by an unfortunate act, and then the story skips ahead suddenly. Now Bart is an adult, out of the army, and gets re-introduced to guns once he meets his soon-to-be love and partner in crime, Annie, played by Peggy Cummins. From there, after getting married and needing (or rather wanting) money, they start robbing banks across country, but soon to meet their demise. But more than anything, the film's focus isn't one where 'crime doesn't pay' or some kind of typical, of-the-period nonsense. Like the Asphalt Jungle, we're given these conflicted, emotional beings who may meet their own ends with each other before the law. And in the film-noir tradition, it's the woman here who will act as a main catalyst for the end of them. It's psychological side of danger, pathological lies, and the pattern of a downward spiral in having to commit violent acts (even un-intentionally), becomes what really pulls in the viewer into the picture, aside from the more loose, on-location 'real' style and interesting camera-work.
Under more 'B-movie' conditions, Lewis sneaks in plenty of chances to look past some of the more cardboard cut-out forms the characters could have been. The acting by the leads is also very good, the script mostly by Dalton Trumbo is one of his best, and both understand how one reflects the other. Cummins is perfect in her part, even if Dall isn't quite as much a stand-out (though, of course, he's the sap to her more wicked side). Also out of the script comes cool lines like the one listed in the summary. It's a notch above many other B-noirs of the period, and should be seen by most serious fans of the 'mood' that came in noir films. A bit cynical, fatalistic to be sure, but it's smart too.
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