Movie Review: Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy1950. Starring John Dall, Peggy Cummins. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis.

The greatest film noir of all time is essentially a love story: love between a man and a woman and their love for guns. When Bart Tare (John Dall) meets Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), it’s love at first shot. Bart has just quit as an Army sharpshooter (after a spell in reform school for stealing handguns), and Laurie is starring as a trick shooter in a carnival. Their on-stage flirtation is an incredible scene, as Laurie coyly points at Bart with her pistol as he challenges her to a contest. He lights matches off a target perched on her head to win the contest, and her heart. She “belongs” to the boss — he has a secret he’s holding onto regarding her — but their attraction to each other gets both fired.

Times are good for the young lovers — until the money runs out. Soon they are doing small stickup jobs, then larger robberies to cover their tracks. Laurie has a bad habit of firing back at her pursuers, something Bart hestitates to do since he remembers the early-life trauma of killing a bird. He’s good at heart — as his best friends testify in court and later in life — and he almosts converts Laurie. “I have the feeling that I want to be good,” she coos in his ear. But they are both running out of time.

The couple on the run want to settle down, but they’re broke. So Laurie offers one last job, and John accepts. The job involves a payroll robbery at an Armour meat plant in which they get jobs. The well-executed plan blows up when Laurie kills a supervisor (who criticized her for wearing slacks!) and a security guard. Chased across the country, the fugitives are near freedom when fate catches up with them.

The lust between them, said the carnival boss, makes them look “like wild animals,” and that’s how they are pursued, right up to the end. The finale, as the couple holds off police and bloodhounds in a foggy mountain swamp, is full of tension and romance. Just before the shots ring out, Bart confides, “I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Every scene in Gun Crazy looks great — even the montage of the happy couple with the clearly fake backgrounds. The famous scene where Bart robs a bank while Laurie distracts a cop, all filmed in three-and-a-half minutes of real time and from the backseat of the getaway car, is amazing. Peggy Cummins is incredibly sexy in her carnival cowgirl outfit, and John Dall seems totally possessed by her. He really seems capable of taming her wild impulses, if not for his own desperate ones.

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