Gun Crazy

Sometimes I see movies that seem so far out of place, that a fascination strikes me that things can happen by accident. The director hopes to cast actors he thinks perfect for the roles, but gets presented with a different set of actors. Scripts appeal to the newly cast actors and they give the film their best shot. The director gives outrageous instructions to the principals and strange chemistry ensues. The cinematographer adds a vibrant visual style and suddenly it doesn’t matter how much the film cost to make. The theme presents itself quite clearly, through a heavy symbolism that excites the audience to passion as they revel in the film’s delightful entertainments.

Peggy Cummins as Laurie Annie Starr in "Gun Crazy."

Peggy Cummins as Annie Laurie Starr in “Gun Crazy.”

Joseph H. Lewis’ “Gun Crazy,” the 1950 film noir classic starring John Dall and Peggy Cummins, presents such a wild and unusual collection of items for a low-budget picture that it almost seems like an accident. Lewis freely indulges in special camera setups, unusual angles, misty set design, crisp sound, and economical editing to give us a unique and highly sexual film, with a natural presentation of archetypal characters. These characters include a deadly female (Peggy Cummins) and a hapless male (John Dall) compelled to be led down a ruinous path.

The film begins as a teenage version of Dall’s character, Barton Tare, prepares to steel a revolver from a hardware store in his small town. He bungles the burglary, gets caught, and goes off to reform school. We learn that even though he’s a crack shot and loves guns, he can’t compel himself to kill anything. This is shown via flashback as he freezes while aiming his gun at a mountain lion. We join Barton year’s later as he returns to town to meet 2 old friends, the local deputy sheriff (Harry Lewis) and a local journalist (Dave Allister). They attend a local carnival, where a beautiful blonde named Annie Laurie Starr (Cummins) puts on a shooting demonstration. Laurie’s introduction to the film is startling, as she’s filmed holding her gun up with her face and torso in full frame.

Barton is invited to compete against Annie Laurie in a shooting contest, but that only leads to a sizzling love affair with her. Barton joins the carnival for a while, but soon the couple rushes off to get married. Annie Laurie makes it clear she’s not going to be satisfied living on $40 a week, and the couple then set off on a robbing spree. The film shows the robbing spree, the police manhunt, and the desperate measures the couple takes to escape detection and keep on committing crimes.

A couple of minor characters add interest without taking much away from the main story. Barry Kroeger plays Packett, a carnival owner who desires Laurie despite understanding her baser instincts all too well. He quickly sizes up Barton as an innocent, but recognizes the couple’s chemistry and compares it to wild animals. As a counterpoint to bad girl Laurie, the film offers Anabel Shaw as Barton’s domestically-oriented sister Ruby. These characters merely get in the way of an unstoppable force that overtakes both the film and Annie Laurie and Barton.

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