Gun Crazy (1950)
User ReviewsReview this title
In the years that passed I wanted to see it again but it didn't appear on TV or later on any videotape that I knew of. In the 1983 Richard Geer film "Breathless" there is a chase scene where he is trying to escape by way of the stage behind a movie screen. On that screen was playing what I immediately recognized as "Gun Crazy". Over the years since then I have continued to look for the movie but was unable to find it. Less than a month ago I found it on DVD and purchased an excellent copy. I found that the movie is just as good as I remember it.
The film is essentially a story of a boy named Bart Tare (Russ Tamblyn) who loves guns for sport but refuses to harm any living being with them. After stealing one from a local store, he is caught and sent to a reformatory. The story continues four reformatory years plus one army hitch later when an adult Bart (John Dall) is discharged. He and some friends go to a cheap carnival where he sees and immediately falls for a trick shot artist, Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins). He beats her in a shooting contest but is offered a job in the act rather than the prize he was supposed to win.
Bart is unaware of her dark past, which includes hints of prostitution and the murder of a man in St. Louis. After a showdown with the jealous carnival owner they run off together and get married. When their money runs out, Bart wants to get a job but Annie Laurie's mind runs in a different direction, armed robbery. Reluctantly, Bart gives in and they set off on a spree of low paying stickups. By this time, Bart is increasingly aware that Annie Laurie has homicidal tendencies that he is barely able to keep under control. They plan a big-time robbery during which she kills two people without his knowledge. The rest of the movie deals with their flight from justice and ultimate payment for their crimes. In all, it is a classic scenario of "Bad Girl" leads a "Good Boy" into evil.
Personal opinion is that John Dall did a better acting job in this movie than he did in "Rope". In a bit of self-analysis I must admit that I have long been fascinated by "Wicked Women". This movie alone placed Peggy Cummins among my favorite "femme fatales", which included the queen of mean, Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Beverly Michaels and other notables.
If you like classic film noir, it is a good movie to remember and see again.
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.
"Gun Crazy" is such an obvious influence on Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde" that I can't believe the later film doesn't credit it directly. Though the 1949 film is based on a short story that appeared in the "Saturday Evening Post" and the 1967 film worked with an original screenplay, both films could have been adapted from the same source. They portray the Annie/Bonnie character as bored and restless, turned on by the thought of crime and by a manly man who can really use his "gun." The Bart/Clyde character is tickled by the idea of being a virile stud in the eyes of his lover, but is ultimately too sensitive for the life they choose. And both films do a good job of portraying the desperation that plagues both couples, the isolation and loneliness they create for themselves and can never break out of, and the ultimate futility of their actions, since the "law" is going to catch up with them sooner or later.
Peggy Cummins is really good in this. I don't know what else she's been in, but her baby-doll voice creates an effective contrast to her colder-than-ice attitude. She's crooning into her lover's ear one minute and itching to kill someone the next. And you have to dig those French-inspired fashions that would cause a sensation nearly 20 years later when Dunaway donned them again for Penn's film.
I thought John Dall was at first odd casting for the role of Bart. Annie is supposed to think of him as a man's man, and Dall, with his willowy physique and gentle mannerisms is far from that. But then when we realize that he's at heart really too gentle for the life he and Annie have chosen for themselves, his casting makes sense.
There are some small touches to this film that really add to its immediacy and realism. I loved the scenes of Annie and Bart driving to and from their heist jobs, shot from the back seat of the car as if we are a member of their gang. They have really funny and natural banter back and forth about where to park, etc. which I have to believe was improvised to some extent. The ending of the film, a face off in a creepy swamp, is eerie, and there's a small twist in the last seconds of the film that might be easy to miss but may give you some things to think about if you catch it.
It's interesting, and rather depressing, that one of the main themes of this film is the obsession with guns and violence that pervaded the country nearly 60 years ago, and here we are a handful of wars later, still dragging around the same old obsessions. Michael Moore's recent documentary "Bowling for Columbine" could have just as easily been called "Gun Crazy," if that title weren't already taken by this forgotten little blast of a movie.
John Dall and Peggy Cummins make one of the more interesting male-female pairings I've ever seen on film. Cummins is one of the prettiest women I've seen from the noir era and fascinating to view throughout this movie. I'm sorry her other films aren't on video. She didn't do many movies in the U.S.
The character Dall plays is good, too, although in the end his constant whining over the predicament he got into gets a little annoying. He plays the nice guy who is led astray by the bad woman. Yes, another classic example of the old Rabbinic saying that "a bad woman will always drag down a good man."
Innovative camera-work also make this fun to watch. At just under an hour-and- a-half, this is a fast-moving, always-entertaining film noir that lives up to its hype.
The movie has outstanding merits. The cinematography, and especially the camera-work are excellent, and comparable to the best achievements in the film-noir genre. Justly celebrated are the scenes filmed with the camera inside the car, like that of the bank shot in Hampton, a true cinematic gem. John Dall and Peggy Cummins, in the roles of the doomed lovers Bart and Annie Laurie, make a great job. The story starts slowly (a minor drawback), but as soon as the two lovers cross the border of legality, the movie acquires a quick, exciting and ruthless pace and presents a powerful finale.
The psychology of Bart and Annie Laurie is studied with care. Annie Laurie is a systematic liar. With Bart she always looks sweet, deeply in love, even subdued to her man. To justify her shootings and murders, she always whines with Bart that she had lost her nerves, that she was scared. But when Bart is not present, the viewer gets from her body language and the cruel expression of her eyes that she just loves to kill. Great job by Peggy Cummins.
So does Laurie just make use of Bart for her dirty purposes, to satisfy her own depravity? Not at all. Oddly enough, in another famous scene we see that Laurie really loves Bart with all her heart. Only, she is bad and cruel, that's her inner core. And is Bart so stupid and bewitched not to realize that Laurie is going to ruin him? No, he knows it, and he deeply suffers, but ultimately he doesn't care. Only Laurie counts. Desperately crazy love... how fascinating! (at least in a film-noir).
The script offers several memorable lines, and the many subtleties give realism to the story. For instance, Bart and Laurie are not professional criminals, and they show it when they carelessly spend "hot" money, which will cost them dearly.
"Deadly is the Female" is an excellent film, a relevant nugget in the film-noir gold mine. Highly recommended.
The story has already been discussed on these boards so I won't repeat it except to say that it moves along at a rapid pace and keeps you enthralled from the beginning (well, not quite. Forget the sappy prologue and get right to the story.) A lot has been said about the one shot (from the back seat of the car) bank robbery but it is dynamite. It is said that Dall and Cummins' dialogue is improvised and that when you hear someone shout" The bank has been robbed", it is an actual pedestrian who did not know that a movie was being made. Now that's realism.
This little B thriller is as good as it gets and belongs right up there with "Detour", the gem of low-budget films. Enjoy!!!!!!!!!
Still gunning for fun, Mr. Dall partners up with shapely carnival attraction Peggy Cummins (as Annie Laurie Starr), after besting her in a shooting contest. Obviously, the two are "Gun Crazy" soul-mates. Although Dall is basically a good man who suffers remorse from his only "kill" (a baby chicken), Ms. Cummins has already murdered a man. Wickedly evil, Cummins has no aversion to killing bystanders as the dynamic duo become notorious bank robbers.
Loosely based on the "Bonnie and Clyde" story, this makes Dall the protagonist hero and places the blame on his feminine companion. It's rooted in the biblical "Adam and evil" plot. But, while Cummins is given the short end of the original sin stick, she is marvelous in the role - just watch her eat a hamburger. Dall's characterization is also intoxicating. Under Joseph H. Lewis' superb direction, they form an essential link in the chain of crime duo films.
********* Gun Crazy (1/20/50) Joseph H. Lewis ~ John Dall, Peggy Cummins, Berry Kroeger, Russ Tamblyn
The clumsy original title, Deadly is the Female, is surely accurate. Boy was Peggy Cummins perfect in this role, and it's odd she did little else with her career. She's no searing dame as in other noirs, but she's a kind of regular, cute girl who attracts not men, but one particular man, played by John Dall. Dall is a perfect victim. He plays the innocent ordinary American guy perfectly, better than even a James Stewart because he has no charisma, no ability to inspire those around him.
So Annie and Bart form a pair of misfits who fit together. And they both love guns, and are really really good with them.
The plot is pretty straight forward from here, but it's fast, and photographed with more vigor than most better films. The dialog pushes the artifice of noir-speak a bit hard, but I swallow it whole and love it as style. And besides, these are two unsophisticated people who might just talk a little corny and dramatic at times. And Annie is truly unpredictable, and her ups and downs are a thrill for us as much as a worry for poor Bart.
Yes, a femme fatale and a noir hero, isolated and doomed. And some riveting long take photography including the now legendary camera view from the back seat of a car, on and on, and on, showing them driving, getting out, waiting while they rob a bank, swerving out a little to look out the window, pulling back, and following them on their escape. It's about as good as B-movie camera-work innovation gets. Cinematographer Russell Harlan was an A-movie quality guy from the studios, later to do "Witness for the Prosecution" and "To Kill a Mockingbird." The angles, the close-ups on their sweaty faces, the moving camera. Check it out.
This is a great movie, in all. Legendary for many reasons. It has flaws if you want to see them that way. Or it has all the raw energy of a scrappy fighter who is determined to win, and does.
No doubt inspired by real life outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Deadly Is the Female (AKA: Gun Crazy) is as good a "doomed lovers on the lam" picture that has ever been made. It may be a "B" movie in terms of production, but no doubt about it, this film is stylish, crafty and also very sexy. Directed by the unsung Joseph H. Lewis, it's based on a story written by MacKinlay Kantor that was reworked by Millard Kaufman (AKA: the then blacklisted Dalton Trumbo), into one that links sex and violence whilst simultaneously casting an eye over gun worship and its place in the American way of life. Dall & Cummings looked on the surface an odd pairing, but under Lewis' direction they go together like gun and holster (ahem). He is well spoken, almost elegantly fragile with his musings, yet underneath there is still this twitchy gun fanatic. She is savvy, almost virginal in sexuality, but ultimately she's a wild cat who's practically un-tamable.
The work of Lewis here should not be understated, check out the quite sublime continuous one take bank robbery. While marvel throughout at his long takes, use of angles, deep focus and jerking camera movements; all of which dovetail with our protagonists as they go on their nihilistic journey. But perhaps his master-stoke was with his preparation tactics for his two leads? Sending them out with permission to improvise, he fired them up with sexual pep talks, and the result, in spite of the inevitable "code" restrictions, is a near masterpiece, a true genre highlight, and a film that continues to influence as much as it still entertains. 9/10
Unlike Bonnie and Clyde, though, this story is set in booming post-war America. Bart is a guy who loves guns but cannot kill. He killed a chick once as a child and as a result of the overwhelming remorse he felt cannot even bring himself to shoot a menacing animal with a bounty on it years later. Bart has good friends, a sister who seems to be well grounded and has been taking care of Bart since their parents' death, yet he commits a crime to get a gun when he's about fourteen when he's got to know this seemingly impulsive act will mean he's caught almost immediately - he is. He's sent to reform school for the theft, goes into the Army for four years but does not see combat, and here it is the present - 1950 - and he's returned home for a visit.
So here Bart is an adult, he has good support from family and friends but he's still gun crazy and has the misfortune of running into sure shot Annie Laurie (Peggy Cummins), a little lady who has big dreams without the problem of a pesky conscience. So Bart's dilemma is that of so many in film noir - a bad set of coincidences coupled with a fundamental character flaw - he just can't say no to Annie Laurie. If he hadn't gone to the carnival that night and done trick shooting against Annie Laurie in a scene that sure looks like foreplay with guns, he probably would have gotten that job with Remington for forty bucks a week and been happy with that. But here he is, in the sexual clutches of a femme fatale who is "dead behind these eyes" - to quote another movie entirely.
Initially, Annie seems to pick Bart because he is a straight arrow, someone who genuinely cares for her, and right before they marry she even vows to "try to be good". Bart goes for Annie Laurie because he can't believe that a girl so pretty and so exciting seems to "get" him and actually wants an ordinary working stiff like himself - but isn't this how so many guys feel on their wedding day?
Ultimately their curse is their first impressions of each other were correct - Bart is basically a straight arrow, and Annie Laurie is exciting and craves a constant high level of excitement - and danger - in her life. So to keep Annie, Bart has to feed her with big wads of cash and even bigger wads of excitement that can only come from robbery, and with armed robbery there's always the chance of murder, and we all know what happens to murderers in the age of the production code.
This film is so visually interesting. One reason I think I like it so much is I like to look around in a scene and just not at the players. Also it has that great and powerful score going for it and Bart and Annie's song "Mad About You" which is so true of both of them but in very different ways. Plus you never get "inside" the characters to find out why they might have turned out this way. Why is Bart so weak? Why is Annie so bad? Remember, this may be 1950, but these two grew up in the Depression and who knows what they saw as kids. It's all left for you to fill in the blanks. Highly recommended.
I never forgot a still from "Gun Crazy" that I saw in a book called "Crime Movies," by Carlos Clarens. It looked like a newspaper photo. It depicted John Dall and Peggy Cummins on the run, apparently after committing a robbery. The picture stayed in my memory, along with the commentary that accompanied it. I have to agree with Clarens that "Gun Crazy" is a movie the legacy of which ("Bonnie and Clyde," "Natural Born Killers," "Badlands," etc.) is far greater and its spin-offs much better known than the source. It's too bad, because "Gun Crazy" has a verisimilitude all its own, and a smoldering sexuality rarely seen in American movies of the late 1940s.
Homicidal lovers on the run is a sub-genre of film noir, and rarely was the visceral, erotic component that drives such stories as well delineated as in "Gun Crazy." In fact, thanks to censorship, and writers not quite talented enough to circumvent its restrictions, many "B" crime movies ignored the sexual tension that drew the lovers to each other to begin with. Often, the couple's meeting and attraction to each other are so sketchily drawn that the killing sprees that follow seem to spring up from nowhere.
The blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, writing under the pseudonym "Millard Kaufman" (who was actually a real screenwriter) crafted the screenplay of "Gun Crazy" from MacKinlay Kantor's short story. The prologue bears a didactic, finger-wagging mark uncharacteristic of Trumbo, in a flashback establishing Bart's fascination since childhood with guns, but a disdain for killing. Understanding this contradiction is the key to Bart's character, but this sequence appears to come from one of those little educational films once shown to 8th-graders, the ham-handed message of which invariably was that Crime Does Not Pay.
So the film really kicks into high gear once the lovers, Bart and Annie Laurie meet. (Significantly, it is only in this and the final scene that he ever has the upper hand over her.) The screenplay's early missteps can be forgiven once the crime spree is underway, most especially in the justifiably famous bank heist scene.
It's no spoiler to say, as is noted on the IMDb home page for this film, that the bank holdup sequence was shot in one take, its dialogue almost entirely improvised. Knowing these scenes were not blocked out and shot on a set only adds to the suspense. As Bart and Laurie drive through town, his manner towards her is so gentle, so felicitous, it's almost as if he were a young husband teaching his wife to drive. But she already knows she is in the driver's seat. She gets them where they need to go; it is she who makes certain of a clean getaway. Bart is really just her tool.
"Gun Crazy" deserves to be seen not just by fans of film noir, but by anyone who loves to stumble upon a surprise—a forgotten jewel of a film ahead of its time and a standout of its genre. This film is crowned by a superb, multi-layered performance from Peggy Cummins. I think it's fair to say that her Laurie really is in love with Bart; after all, she has her chances to leave him. But he evokes in her a tenderness and reminds her of her desire for the ordinary life she has harbored, but has always known would never be hers. Watching some of their quietly sexy scenes together, you can almost hear Laurie purr, "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way."
John Dall is just as effective as Cummins, in my view. Director Joseph H. Lewis was wise to go with a softer, stifled version of a Fred McMurray, whom Dall somewhat resembled. He was tall and lanky, imposing but never threatening. Time in reform school and the Army didn't make Bart tough, so it's unlikely that he would be immune to the charms of the steamiest of femmes fatale. Laurie is tough enough for the both of them, almost "all down the line."
No less as stunner is Peggy Cummins in a deceptively difficult role. Others have noted how Cummins fails to make the distinction between cold-blooded femme fatale and all-American (or, in Cummins case, English) girl. Well, that's exactly the point- Laurie is an enigma. Introduced with the names of two famed feminine sharped shooters tacked on to her real name, and playing with costumes in their couple's run from the law (one moment she's a bespectacled young-married, the next a lone hitchhiker toting a gun), it's hard to gage Laurie's true motivations. Oh, she wants "big things" and she seems very trigger happy (unlike Bart, she will kill) but she does love Bart and shows true vulnerability at times. Dall, whom I enjoyed in ROPE, has another interesting role in Bart Tare, who, from boyhood, loves guns, but can't bring himself to kill after shooting dead a chick at the age of seven. Others may call Tare stiff, but I think he projects the exact quality the film-makers were looking for.
It's creatively shot, and unusually rhythmic (almost poetic) for a B film (or "nervous A", as it was originally conceived as). It's great.
Yes indeed, much has been written about Lewis's little gem and deservedly so. What I get from it is how trapped Bart (Dall) is by forces he neither understands nor controls, until it's too late. On one hand there's Annie Laurie Starr (Cummins) whose raw sexuality is about as subtle as Mae West on aphrodisiacs. On the other, is Bart's natural talent with guns, the only thing he professes to be good at. So when the camera pans up from Laurie's thighs to the twirling six-shooters in the carny sideshow, Bart's in some kind of NRA heaven.
Then after he shoots out her last flame to show who's gun boss, their betrothal is sealed. At this point, they could retire to a Remington plant somewhere to live out conventional lives, except for one problem--- Laurie gets turned on by violence, especially with a revolver, while Bart's a converted pacifist, allergic to killing anything. So the problem is if Bart wants some of Laurie's white-hot sex, he's got to collaborate on her life of crime. Poor Bart, he'd like to be just another married couple, but temptress Laurie is just too much for his confusion. Plus, it's not a ring that bonds them, it's two clutching hands on a revolver that seals their love. For Bart, it's a spell he can't break until the mist finally swallows them both.
No doubt about it, Lewis has concocted a visual masterpiece that frames the story perfectly. However, I'm still wondering how Bart can shoot out a cop's tire through a glass pane without breaking it. Oh well, no movie's perfect.
I can see why GUN CRAZY is highly regarded by it's cult followers. The celebrated extended single take of a bank robbery from inside Bart and Laurie's car to it's completion(replete with Laurie getting a copper's attention)is a jaw-dropper. I'm amazed this movie was a low budget B-movie, you could've fooled me. This is just as good as those great Nicholas Ray movies; this would make a great double bill with THEY LIVE BY NIGHT. This is so obviously an inspiration for Alan Parker's BONNIE AND CLYDE, regarding two nobodies, beautiful and bad, from meager beginnings to notorious outlaws, cutting a swath across the country. It doesn't surprise me that Lewis' GUN CRAZY was modeled after the real life bandits Bonnie and Clyde, the stories are so closely related in certain aspects. You know it's gonna end badly for these two, crime doesn't pay. Peggy Cummins, as Laurie, is a knock-out and one can see why Bart would chuck it all to do her bidding..she's especially delectable in her cowgirl outfit. Joseph H Lewis doesn't stop with a car chase, but finishes the film with police following behind Bart and Laurie into the mountains, resulting in a final shootout in a fog-engulfed swamp..Lewis, it seems, has a gift for squeezing every bit of suspense he can out of a situation. Many will recognize John Dall as one of the psychopaths in Hitchcock's masterpiece, ROPE.
The story was believable for me and I was easily sucked into the story. There were parts where I thought they would be found, like when they entered the park and the cops were getting closer to them. Towards the end I thought they were going to get away when Bart said he might know a way to escape. The best scene was the end when they were in the swamp. With the sounds and the fog, it gave the scene some mystery. I didn't know what was going to happen, but I kept saying to myself "run you idiots!" The movie, however, ended like any film noir with the main characters having the law catch up with them. The movie was overall a great movie.
When Bart gets out, he goes to a carnival and takes a bet to match a sharpshooter (Cummins). He wins. The two fall in love and get married, but it's apparent from the beginning that Annie doesn't want the normal life of lower middle class or poverty. She wants big bucks. The two turn to robbery. Bart is totally freaked out, but with Annie's urging, he agrees to one more job - the payroll office of a packing plant. He gets a job in the plant, and she gets a job in the office. The two wind up on the run. There's murder involved as well as robbery due to Annie's itchy trigger finger.
As part of the robbery plan, the two are supposed to separate, but when they try to, they can't. For all her psychosis, Annie truly loves Bart and can't bear to be separated from him. He feels the same way about her. Obsession is what drives them - the obsession for one another.
Low-budget but very stylish, gritty, and realistic, "Gun Crazy" gives us the nutso Annie Laurie and the nervous sharpshooter Bart, caught up in a cycle of robbery and death. Dall to me looks totally different from his appearance in "Rope" - I had to look him up on IMDb, thinking I had misspelled the name. Welsh by birth, Cummins was replaced by Linda Darnell in "Forever Amber." I'm not sure what the problem was, but she is well suited to the role of Annie. Some 60 years later, she remains a gorgeous woman, now widowed, her husband of 51 years dying in 2001.
Lewis has a robbery done as a continuous take, way ahead of its time, and the ending of the film is stunning. Highly recommended. Just shows how far a little money can go if you have imagination.
Peggy Cummings is great as the manipulative woman who destroys this tragic guy, using 1950's implied sex to blackmail him into a life of crime he really doesn't want. In many ways, this was a subversive film that could only be made by United Artists, as it portrayed crime as glamorous and criminals as sympathetic. It did do the obligatory "crime doesn't pay" ending where the characters die, of course.
It has a Fruedian association between guns and sex, particularly the sharpshooting scene where Dall outshoots Cummings.
In the first part of the film, Bart is portrayed as a troubled young man who has a weird fascination with guns. He is sent off to reform school. So, we may expect him to come out all twisted and ready to go on a crime spree, but no-- He comes back as a nice young man who has served in the army and is now looking to carry on a normal life.
Later, when Bart comes under the spell of the blonde sharpshooter, Annie Laurie Starr, he moves pretty quickly into a life of crime. It seems a little odd that this clean-cut guy would do this and I think it would have been better if he had shown some sign of the depravity the character had as a child.
Of course, there is the highly charged scene in which they engage in a shooting contest. Sexual tension is evident, but since this was 1949, there is nothing too explicit.
What really makes this film fascinating are the great scenes in which the characters go off on their robbery spree. The long one-take shot from the back seat of the car as they pull the bank robbery is terrific. Also the close-ups on their faces when they are running from the law towards the end.
(Spoiler) The final shootout is not as violent as you might expect, given all that has gone before, but it has a nice twist in that the guy who could not kill ends up killing the person he loves.
The Bonnie and Clyde comparisons are inevitable. In some scenes Laurie wears a beret. The real Bonnie wore one in one famous photo, so the filmmakers may have taken it from that. Some 18 years later, Faye Dunaway had the same look. I am sure the producers of "Bonnie and Clyde" were influenced by "Gun Crazy." I wonder why John Dall did not do more films. He is one of those actors with a distinct look. I remember him from "Rope" and "Spartacus," but it appears his last film was the Atlantis sci-fi movie from the early 1960's.
This is a great film for studying technique.
Considering its B-movie status and its modest budget, "Gun Crazy" is absolutely sensational as it tells its "lovers on the run" story with so much simplicity and energy that watching it becomes a riveting experience. The action is delivered at high speed and the movie's visual style is enhanced by some marvellous camera-work. Good use is made of high and low angle shots and various sequences are shot from interesting viewpoints (such as the inside of a shop window or the back seat of a car). The dialogue is succinct and hardboiled and imparts expositional information and details about the characters with such economy that it also contributes strongly to the pace of the film.
Bart Tare (John Dall) was fascinated by guns from a very early age and his inability to resist the temptation to steal a revolver from a shop window, led him into trouble and a stint in reform school during his teens. This experience was followed by Army service before he returned home to the small town of Cashville where he intended to get a job and settle down. After meeting up with a couple of his friends, they all decide to visit a travelling carnival where they watch a performance by an attractive sharpshooter called Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins).
Bart is enthralled by Laurie's act and when the carnival owner, Packett (Berry Kroeger), invites members of the audience to take part in a shooting match with his star attraction, Bart is happy to accept the challenge. He displays better skill and accuracy than his opponent and is offered a job by Packett but far more significantly, the chemistry between him and Laurie is palpable and eventually leads to them both getting fired by the very jealous carnival owner.
Bart and Laurie run away together, get married and enjoy an extended honeymoon but when their money runs out and Bart plans to get a job, Laurie dismisses the idea because an ordinary wage could never be sufficient to meet her high aspirations. She's determined to get what she wants at any price and makes it clear that she's intent on pursuing her ambitions with or without Bart. His passion for her is so great that he casts aside his own reservations and allows himself to be persuaded to join her on a wild crime spree during which they rob a variety of businesses and a bank before their story reaches its violent conclusion.
One of the most memorable parts of the movie is the scene during which the couple first meet. Their expressions and body language convey very clearly just how powerfully they're attracted to each other and the atmosphere is absolutely electric. Peggy Cummins is brilliant in this scene and also in some others where the level of excitement that she derives from the couple's various escapades is obvious and intense. John Dall is also great during the couple's first encounter but throughout the entire film he portrays Bart's sensitive nature, naivety and lack of guile with tremendous conviction.
Laurie is a manipulative psychopath who's totally unencumbered by any morals or principles and finds it incredibly easy to use her sexual allure to get Bart to do whatever she wants. Bart's fixation with guns had always been based on the fact that they made him "feel awful good inside, like I'm someone" but equally strong was his inability to even contemplate killing any living creature. At various times during their relationship, Bart becomes troubled about what they're doing and especially about the killing but he never has the strength of character to distance himself from Laurie or their criminal activity.
"Gun Crazy" makes a terrific impact, has great drive and is simply an exceptional movie.
But this isn't Natural Born Killers either... Nor is it some bland argument in favour of gun control! More than anything, this is a brilliant dramatization of how badly things can deteriorate for two people, once they decide that they can "live for love alone" and opt out of the social contract. These monsters are not "products of their environment": they choose their fate...
"Didn't you realize that once we started this, we'd never be able to turn to anyone for help again?" Dall asks Cummins. She knows.
Cummins is amazing in this role. I don't even think she qualifies as a femme fatale really... That term usually applies to a money-grubbing jerk who tantalizes the male protagonist into compromising his integrity. In some ways, she does have this effect on Dall, but it's a lot more complicated than that... This isn't Phyllis Dietrichson & Walter Neff. Barbara Stanwyck is my favourite actress, bar none, but Double Indemnity? That's gotta be one of the worst things she ever did. It's not her fault. It's Billy Wilder's. He liked his women venal or pixiesh... Either way--they're just there to affect the men. I hate Billy Wilder. I really do. If you're looking for a Stanwyck character to compare Cummins to, try her eponymous turn in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers on for size. There are a lot of similarities. Both women are extraordinarily competent, and that's what makes them appealing. They aren't moral black holes sucking the men to their doom--they're Nietzschean supernovae of desire. Cummins isn't trying to fool Dall into getting stuff for her. She wants a partner in crime. Someone to keep her company while she does what she does (& loves) best. Shoot people. Dall is a lot more squeamish than that, but he can't keep away from her. "I let you do my killing for me," he says.
They aren't two people anymore. They're one. And it turns out that romantic fusion isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact it's crazy.