Gun Crazy (1949)

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This post is part of the “Try it, you’ll like it” blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid and Movies, Silently. As they say in their introduction post, “these are the classic films our writers believe will have crossover appeal to those suffering from Dread Of Old Movies (DOOM) syndrome.” If you need to convince a skeptical newb about the appeal of “old” crime films, here’s one I suggest you have them watch. It’s an exciting, raw and sexy example of great and influential filmmaking done on a shoestring budget. It’s rebellious grit and pulpy heat, it’s fast and dangerous and still relevant, it has a great lead role for a woman, and it’s just plain fun, what Pauline Kael called a “wonderfully crummy” masterpiece. 

Gun Crazy (1949) usually ranks as one of the greatest noirs ever made for all those good reasons. A variation on the perennial l’amour fou (mad love), Bonnie & Clyde plot, it’s about doomed young lovers bonded and then destroyed by their gun mania, thrill seeking and rejection of traditional values. Bart (John Dall) has a squeamishness about guns as well as a lifelong obsession with them. One day he’s mesmerized by Annie Laurie’s (Peggy Cummins) hot performance as a carnival sharpshooter. For him, it’s love at first sight, and she sees in him an appealing and submissive sucker and partner in crime. They marry and spend a brief period as happy newlyweds until their money runs out, and then Laurie plots a robbery spree. Bart tries his best to stay straight but Laurie and his lust for her are forces of nature that suck him into her schemes, and get them involved in a amurder and a manhunt.

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Gun Crazy is the hard boiled relative of the “wayward youth” and morality pictures of earlier decades, and its depiction of armed juvenile delinquents on the run threatening society and thumbing their nose at the Greatest Generation looked forward to the rebel spirit of rock and roll. Bart and Laurie may be doomed and punished, but having such appealing actors, who still look “current,” enact this passion and “live fast die young” spirit fixes them as one of cinema’s eternally glam and cool couples.  

Gun Crazy is also a visual treat, with many technical and stylistic choices necessitated by a low budget or time limits, and turned into brilliant storytelling techniques and much-copied genre hallmarks. Director Joseph H. Lewis and D.P. Russell Harlan use deep focus and tracking shots, have the camera move and follow and peep through car and store windows or peek around posts and other obstacles. They set up mirror images and symmetrical sequences, and most famously gave us that memorable long take with a camera sitting in a moving car’s back seat POV during a whole heist and getaway.

You don’t get Oscar-level acting here but the casting does most of the job and the leads are authentic and riveting. Peggy Cummins got an iconic femme fatale role summed up by the film’s original title, Deadly is the Female, and John Dall can convince you, just with his love-drunk grinning, that he’s a naive man-child playing with fire and a sap worthy of your sympathy. Their chemistry works best of all in that “courtship” set piece where they share the carnival stage, shooting and showing off, testing and proving each other’s trust and skill with a pistol. It’s a fantastic film that just seems to get cooler as it ages and should appeal to anyone with a taste for action and crime. Enjoy the images below and then check out the other gateway films being suggested as part of the “Try It, You’ll Like It!” Blogathon here.

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34 thoughts on “Gun Crazy (1949)”

  1. I remember how gobsmacked I was the first time I saw that long tracking shot from the back of the car. Didn’t expect it and never forgot it. As a whole, this movie still looks modern.

    1. Same here– if I recall, I had seen that first image that I used in this post, plus heard Tarantino or Scorsese describe that car take, and was dying to see what this movie was all about. It just looked so cool and modern, and it didn’t disappoint when I finally saw it. Good one to show the noobs 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  2. I don’t know that I would call Gun Crazy one of the greatest film noirs made but it’s certainly one of the best in the B-movie status. Peggy Cummins is beautiful and John Dall (best known for his role in Alfred Hitchock’s “Rope”) is sympathetic even though he ends up being a criminal. Their chemistry on screen is great. Definitely worth a look. https://hqofk.wordpress.com/2015/12/05/gun-crazy-1949/

    Tam

    1. For sure, one of the best B’s ever (The Narrow Margin has to rank high on that list too!). I like Rope, Dall was good there too. The neat thing is that this couple never seem dated– their look, fashion, manner, chemistry, everything about them you could transplant to any era and it would work. Better than Bonnie & Clyde, in my opinion. Thanks!

    1. When we’re young we see the new movies and think they’re so original and better, and then you see these cheap little masterpieces from decades before and see where the cool came from 🙂 This is bound to amaze someone who thinks there was no edge or heat in ye olden days, and teach a budding filmmaker a thing or two. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for sharing. I’v enever heard of this. It sounds… kind of creepy.
    The pics are fabulous and they give a very strong ideas of what the film might be.

  4. Golly, I just kind of assumed everyone had seen Gun Crazy! Well done, K, that you’re turning new viewers on to it.

    Cummins is still alive, by the way, which is something that cheers me up every time I think about it. 🙂

    1. That is a nice thought. I also assumed GC was popular and widely seen *shrugs* and that I’d be boring picking this, so I’m glad to send a few more eyeballs its way. Thank you!

  5. For starters I would class this wonderful film,
    at the very least, as one of the top five Noirs of
    all time.
    Secondly I don’t like to see the film regarded as a
    B Movie;certainly not with it’s 86 minute running time,
    and,according to imdb $400,000 budget.
    Thirdly,as a dedicated Pauline Kael non fan,I really
    don’t give a hoot what she thinks of GUN CRAZY or
    any other film for that matter.
    Another similar themed film worth checking out is
    PERSONS IN HIDING where the wonderful Patricia
    Morison certainly gives Peggy a run for her money
    in the Femme Fatale stakes.
    Totally agree BTW that GUN CRAZY smokes
    BONNIE AND CLYDE.

    1. Glad you added this info because I’d so often seen it referred to as a B, definitely one of the best, not only noirs, but crime pictures in my book. Exciting and never dull and it was fun to be in LA standing on a street shown in the movie 🙂 Must see Persons in Hiding, thanks!!

  6. Yes, there really is a modern feel to this film. So compelling and has a distinctive feel to it.

    Really enjoyed your review. I realized, while reading your post, it’s been well over a year since I’ve seen this. How did I let that happen?! Must see again ASAP.

    1. Just seeing a picture of this couple back in the 90s hooked me, they didn’t look dated in any way. It’s a firecracker of a movie! Watch it again!

  7. Great review and a great choice! Hopefully this film will get a proper Blu-ray release soon. (I think there’s a Spanish edition and a French edition: one is super expensive and the other got pretty bad reviews.) I also highly recommend Eddie Muller’s book GUN CRAZY: THE ORIGIN OF AMERICAN OUTLAW CINEMA http://blackpoolproductions.com/guncrazyretail.html

    1. I have to read that, a couple people recommended the book after I posted this. That would be nice, a decent blu. It was easy to pick since over the years I’ve been it friends not into class is and they always enjoy it. Thanks!

  8. Ahhh “GUN CRAZY.” I sort of think this one might scare newbies off, this couple being so out there. But if they hang with it…I’ve no doubt they’ll be hooked on seeing what more is out there in the black ‘n white old movie world. Peggy Cummins’ Annie Laurie is like a mad dog in heat. Great performance. ( I got her autograph at the 2012 TCM Film Festival. )

    1. Intense but good for anyone into, say, Tarantino and company, good to see where they got so much of their style. Lucky you, what a cool thing to meet that lovely lady and super actress. Thanks so much!

  9. The above comment is very interesting because,
    when directing the film Lewis told Dall you are
    a dog;and he told Peggy to play her role
    like a bitch in heat.

  10. This film is a real entertainment! I’m sure everybody can enjoy it. I had the chance to see it on big screen. A pretty awesome experience. Thanks for the great review!

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