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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Lovers-on-the-lam saga transmuted into poetic American tragedy
Joseph H. Lewis' low-budget saga of a couple of star-crossed lovers shooting their way across the modern west may be the most achingly romantic entry in the entire noir cycle. Apart from an awkward and superfluous prologue that isn't of a piece with the rest of the film, it pushes its protagonists, and the doomed devotion that binds them together, front and center in almost every frame. Other players skitter distantly around the periphery; John Dall and Peggy Cummins take and hold the screen (she radiantly and naturally, he more reticently and stagily), making Gun Crazy in essence a two-character movie. And what a movie.
A young loner for whom firearms hold a fetishistic allure, Bart Tare (Dall) strolls into a carnival sideshow one evening where he encounters his kismet sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Cummins), the main attraction. As soon as she makes her entrance she feels his eyes burning into her, and when he takes the challenge to outshoot her, with each in turn donning a crown of matches to be ignited by the other's bullets, they both know they're playing with fire. He joins the show, but when their courtship gets them both canned, they hit the road.
Their honeymoon wanderings are a forlorn sketch of American road travel circa mid-century, as in Nabokov's Lolita: The motels, beaneries and tourist traps beckon brightly but fail to satisfy. When a fling in Vegas leaves them broke, they sit dwarfed under the vaulted, Gothic arch of a diner where they can't even pony up the extra five cents for onions with their hamburgers.
Plainly Cummins didn't bargain for genteel poverty when she set her cowboy hat for Dall she didn't take him for such a straight-shooter. She craves luxury and, even more, excitement blood. Only when she hints at leaving does he cave in to her bidding, and they start knocking over liquor stores, gas stations, banks. (The movie's only real playfulness emerges in the costumes they get themselves up in to pull various jobs.)
But money isn't much good to them on the lam shivering in a shack during a Montana blizzard so they agree to head down to Mexico, buy a little spread, raise some kids after one last job, robbing the payroll at an Armour Packing plant. Here Cummins' blood-lust finally erupts, and, wanted now for murder, they find themselves with no place to run. Even Dall's sister offers them a frosty reception at the family homestead (`Gee, what cute kids,' Cummins observes in a voice flat as a frozen flapjack). So they head for the hills where Dall used to shoot and cavort as a boy and where he's destined finally to break his lifelong vow never to kill.
Those final scenes of the lovers clutching one another as the dogs bay in the night, and amid the wild grasses and morning mists as their captors close in, approach a kind of spare poetry. A story of a couple of misfits on the wrong side of the law transcends its genre and turns into an authentic American tragedy. It's poignant and riveting, this ballad of Bart Tare and Annie Laurie Starr.
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