Sunday 30 June 2019

Movie Review: Gun Crazy (1950)

A crime thriller and tumultuous romance, Gun Crazy is a breathlessly seductive film noir.

At the age of 14, Bart Tate is arrested for stealing a gun. His sister Ruby (Anabel Shaw) explains to the judge that Bart has been obsessed with guns from a young age, and is an expert marksman but never shoots at any living thing. Bart is sentenced to a stint in reform school, and subsequently serves in the army. The adult Bart (John Dall) returns to his home town and reunites with childhood buddies Clyde (Harry Lewis), now the sheriff, and Dave (Nedrick Young), a newspaperman.

The carnival is in town, and Bart falls under the spell of sharpshooting performer Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), who harbours a dark past. He joins her traveling roadshow, they become a couple, and after tangling with her no-good manager Packett (Berry Kroeger), they take off on their own, get married and start a life together. But Bart's savings only take them so far. Annie is ambitious, wants the expensive things in life and starts to agitate for a life of crime as a shortcut to wealth.

Bart, to Annie: We go together, Annie. I don't know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together.

A B-movie budget transformed into A-level entertainment, Gun Crazy is a tight 87 minutes of noir excellence. Written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo and credited to MacKinlay Kantor, the film assembles the perfect elements for a whirlwind descent into crime. The well-meaning but susceptible man, the seductive woman who purrs on the outside but has a killer's instinct, the torrid lust and greed driving them both to the edge, and the one last big heist that just has to happen.

Bart: I can still get that job at Remington.
Annie: Forty dollars a week?
Bart: We can get by on that.
Annie: Yeah, maybe you can, but not me. It's too slow, Bart. I want to do a little living.
Bart: What's your idea of living?
Annie: It's not forty bucks a week.

Director Joseph H. Lewis uses short and sharp strokes to define the characters and their psyche, investing efficient screen time into what makes Bart such a perfect victim. The early scenes outline his life as a withdrawn child who finds solace in his love of guns but is subsequently mortified when he takes a shot at a chick. As a man Bart appears to have placed his troubles behind him, but attractive, gun-toting, sharp-shooting Annie is just too perfect as a soulmate, and he is trapped into her orbit before he ever joins her on the carnival stage.

As with the best femmes fatale, Annie knows exactly who she is and warns Bart often and early a life with her will mean trouble. If he wants to keep her he will have to satisfy all her impulses, and when she demands they turn to lawlessness, he succumbs. Despite their torrid lifestyle Bart and Annie remain deeply in love, and Trumbo conjures up a most elegant statement of their devotion when a planned getaway in two separate cars immediately reconverges with dual U-turns.

Annie, to Bart: I told you I was no good. I didn't kid you, did I? Well, now you know. Bart, I've been kicked around all my life. Well, from now on, I'm gonna start kicking back.

Some of the cinematography is supremely impressive, Lewis decades ahead of his time in placing his camera in a converted moving car, in real traffic, and allowing improvised dialogue for heightened realism. The outcome is a quite magnificent 3 minutes and 30 seconds single-shot bank heist scene filmed from the car's back seat.

And leave it to British actress Peggy Cummins to nail the most American of film noir roles as the quintessential femme fatale, her flirtatious girl-next-door performance dominating the screen with sparkling eyes that more than hint at her nothing-can-stop-me fortitude.

Annie, to Bart: Bart, I want things, a lot of things, big things. I don't want to be afraid of life or anything else. I want a guy with spirit and guts. A guy who can laugh at anything, who will do anything, a guy who can kick over the traces and win the world for me.

Bart and Annie are both Gun Crazy and crazy about each other; only one of them insists on pushing the insanity to its limits, but they will travel together no matter the destination.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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