Also known as: Deadly Is the Female (UK)
Release Date: January 20th, 1950
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
Written by: Dalton Trumbo, MacKinlay Kantor
Based on: Saturday Evening Post story Gun Crazy by MacKinlay Kantor
Music by: Victor Young
Cast: Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Russ Tamblyn
King Brothers Productions, United Artists, 87 Minutes
“We go together, Annie. I don’t know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together.” – Bart
As I have been looking at older noir and crime pictures, I have come across a few films that are sort of prototypes to Bonnie and Clyde. This may be the best example of a proto-B&C movie though. In fact, I like it more than Bonnie and Clyde.
To put it bluntly, this film is absolutely amazing! While it doesn’t top out on most critics’ top film-noir lists, this is one of the best movies I have seen in the style and I actually watched it twice over the course of a night, once with friends having a noir marathon and again, by myself, to give it my full attention. This may actually be the coolest film-noir that I have seen but then again, I’ve always had a sweet spot for a good Bonnie and Clyde type story.
The thing that really makes this work for me is the utter realism of everything that is happening on the screen. Instead of posting a trailer, I had to post a sequence of the film at the bottom of this review. Reason being, I wanted to showcase how great the action and the cinematography is. There are great long takes that are captured in real time, adding a level of gritty authenticity to the major heist in the picture, as well as some other key scenes.
Gun Crazy is a sexy movie in a time when sexiness on celluloid was something very different. Peggy Cummins was not a typical femme fatale, she was a femme fatale that was a gun toting badass of the highest caliber. Sure, she murdered people because fear was a trigger that made her shoot but she was just damn good at it and truly felt unstable and dangerous in the hottest way. The way she gets out of the car and handles the cop during the big heist is great. Plus, she wears pants because doing dirt and robbing a meat packing plant’s payroll isn’t as easy to do in a dress. Nowadays, women wearing pants to work is normal but the movie made a point to have her boss make a stink about it in the film.
The unique thing about this picture, is that the male lead, John Dall’s Bart, is an amazing marksman but he’s a pacifist that abhors violence and killing. He just has an obsession with guns because it is the only thing that makes him feel whole. Shooting is his talent and when he meets Peggy Cummins’ Annie Laurie Starr, a carnival sharpshooter, he can’t help but fall head over heels in love with her. It’s hard for the male audience of this film to not be pulled in by her majestic allure and badass style.
With the title of the film and with the opening sequence, which follows adolescent Bart breaking into a hardware store to steal a pistol, you’d probably assume that this was an anti-gun movie. It really isn’t. Back in the 1940s, people weren’t so freaked out by firearms and it was an accepted part of American culture. It is more about the unhealthiness of mania and obsession. Bart obsesses over guns, not to hurt people or to commit crimes but because they make him comfortable. It is that mania and obsession that leads him down a bad path and not the gun itself. Granted, you could also direct blame at the femme fatale and her trigger happy ways.
This film has uncanny cinematography and not just in the long take sequences but in the attention to small detail with lighting and shadow. The closing shot of the film is pretty breathtaking, as is the opening sequence of young Bart staring into the storefront window, eyeing a pistol while the rain pours down between the window and the dark buildings in the background.
Maybe the extra gravitas that this film has is due to it being written by Dalton Trumbo, one of the most accomplished writers of his day, who was unfortunately blacklisted in Hollywood due to the insanity of McCarthyism and the unconstitutional witch hunts it birthed.
Gun Crazy is exceptional; it is a masterpiece of the highest caliber. It is a perfect storm of everything going right in front of and behind the camera. I didn’t expect to be blown away by it but I was hooked from the film’s opening scene to that tragic ending that one would expect from a true noir.