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.
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.