Gun Crazy (1950)
Gun Crazy (1950)

Genre: Crime Drama and Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.

Release Date: January 20th, 1950 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Joseph H. Lewis Actors: Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Berry Kroeger, Morris Carnovsky, Anabel Shaw, Harry Lewis, Nedrick Young, Trevor Bardette, Virginia Farmer

 


 

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oung Barton Tare has a strange obsession with guns – from slingshots to BB guns to the real thing, he just can’t stand to be away from weapons that shoot. When he’s apprehended breaking into a hardware store in Cashville to steal a revolver, he’s brought into court, where his guardian and sister Ruby (Anabel Shaw) and his peers (Dave and Clyde) attempt to sway the judge (Morris Carnovsky) from locking the boy away for good. Through a series of flashbacks, Barton’s infatuation with firearms is manifested. It’s an unhealthy mania that can’t be curbed by promises or sullen looks – and so the judge opts to send Bart to a reform school, out of town, where he can learn to control his urges.

After coming of age and serving a stint in the Army, Bart (John Dall) finally returns, eager to see Ruby and her children and to reunite with his boyhood pals. Before he makes it back to his sister, however, his friends take him to Packett’s Carnival, where the “Darling of London, England,” Miss Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), performs her sharpshooting routine. Upon seeing her, Bart is instantly enamored. When the barker wagers that a challenger can’t outshoot the reigning champ (by doing a cigarette-lighting stunt that is extremely absurd, since it’s not only life-threatening but also ludicrous that Starr would willingly allow a newcomer to shoot at a crown on her head), Bart turns them all into chumps with his marksman skills. His showmanship isn’t wasted though, as he’s hired by Packett – which quickly leads to a love triangle/rivalry that finds Bart and Annie fired. But it doesn’t stop them from getting married and honeymooning and trying – futilely – to stay out of trouble.

Since “Gun Crazy” is a film noir – and a film noir made during a period when the genre began to grow darker and more tragic – the heroes start a financial decline that prompts a return to illegal activities. And it’s all shrouded in shadows, sex, and violence. Rather suddenly, Laurie abandons her ideals of being good to insist upon living a life of luxury – one that only crime can provide. Seduced and swayed by the most venomous of femmes fatales, Bart becomes a stickup man, with Annie joining in on the holdups and the carjackings. Graduating to bank robberies isn’t the end of it though; the more they succeed in their dealings, the more they chase bigger payoffs, with greater risks and collateral damage.

Based on a story from the Saturday Evening Post, “Gun Crazy” features amusing chase choreography (many times from inside the getaway vehicle), a Bonnie and Clyde set of antiheroes, and a pervasive sense of doom, of gnawing tension, for the main characters. Tare does exhibit some regret for his actions – some conflict with his morals – but he’s too hopelessly caught up in Annie’s web. Despite accruing cash to keep moving to the next city, their lives are anything but glamorous. They’re always on the run, alone, and holed up in abandoned buildings. Glamorizing crime is certainly not part of “Gun Crazy’s” perspective.

The chances they take never seem to pay off; they never have something tangible to lose, save for their freedom or their lives, neither of which have reached a discernible high point. But their inseparableness and love are certainly, profoundly valuable – that lone commodity more cherished than any fortune that could be taken away from them. And since some semblance of righteousness still existed in 1950 filmmaking, it’s not unpredictable when justice (in the form of the FBI and, in a twist, childhood friends Dave and Clyde, now a newspaperman and a deputy) and bitter comeuppance rear their ugly and disheartening heads – for an inevitable showdown in the foggy hills of Bart’s hometown.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10