It’s actually a damned good thing that Joseph H. Lewis, proud member of Andrew Sarris’s clan of “Expressive Esoterica,” had as exciting a visual flair and as much a taste for zero-flab pacing as he did. Otherwise, Gun Crazy, his 1949 “pre-Bonnie & Clyde” would be an hour and a half of two lovers on the lam stroking their own Phallic symbols. John Dall plays the adult version of Bart Tare. But in the prologue section of the film, Bart is shown as a child (played by Rusty Tamblyn, who amazingly grew less masculine following the onset of puberty) caught stealing a revolver from a gun shop window display. The extended hearing sequence shows, through flashbacks, that Bart might have displayed poor judgment in trying to steal the gun, and he might have a strong fixation on his growing collection of firearms, but he is psychologically incapable of doing harm to other living creatures. (You do the math, dime-store Freud scholars.) He’s sent to reformatory and, then, to the military. Upon his release (Dall’s a lanky, hunched-over eunuch with the same little-boy mop-top—expert casting on Lewis’s part), he and his boyhood chums take in a gun show at the local carnival, and it’s the swaggering Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) and her sharp-shooting show that captures his eye. They get married and things swiftly go downhill: bank robberies, betrayals, and eventually flirtation with murder. Gun Crazy itself flirts with misogyny (not that 95% of film noirs weren’t guilty, on the surface, of the same), and unlike any number of Raymond Chandler knock-offs of the era, its dialogue sort of rolls over and dies in the mouths of Dall and Cummings (who frequently sounds like a morose, tanked-up Judy Garland). But it’s easy to see why auteurists like Sarris insist even today (when psychosexual interpretations of gunplay come off as a punchline rather than serious foreplay) in holding up the film as a model of directorial expression. Lewis, through sheer force of will, turns the script’s easy ways out (“I told you I’m a bad girl, didn’t I?”) into the essence of blunt, adolescent sexual flowering. Wild, wam-bam pacing (early heavy petting) eventually matures into the film’s most memorable sequence: a one-take robbery sequence taken from the back seat of the getaway car, a stunning tour de force that’s Lewis’s cinematographic slow fuck.
- Warner Bros.
- 87 min
- Joseph H. Lewis
- Mackinlay Kantor, Millard Kaufman
- Peggy Cummings, John Dall, Berry Kroeger, Morris Carnovsky, Anabel Shaw, Harry Lewis, Nedrick Young, Rusty Tamblyn
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