Gun Crazy (1949)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/12/05
Alternate Title: "Deadly Is The Female"
Cast: Peggy Cummins, John Dall

This cautionary tale of self destruction is often cited as the precursor to "Bonnie And Clyde" (1967) and is considered a classic of the film noir movement. Bart Tare (John Dall) is a gun nut and an exceptional shooter. Ever since he was a young boy he'd been fascinated by guns, and his obsession eventually led him to breaking the law and ending up in reform school. After a brief and unfulfilling tour in the army, Bart returns home to start a new life, but a chance encounter with a carnival sharp-shooter named Laurie Starr (venomous Peggy Cummins) seals his fate. Laurie is pure poison - a classic femme fatale of unattainable beauty, deadly charms, and loose morals. She's also a loose cannon and carries a gun, which makes her physically dangerous as well. Bart almost seems impotent in light of the way she pistol-whips and pussy-whips him around. But as Bart puts it, the two of them belong together "like guns and ammunition," and they try to live a decent life together. Financial stress and general restlessness force the couple to turn to a life of crime, and their increasingly risky hold-ups lead them down the doomed path of no return.

Nearly sixty years after it was made, "Gun Crazy" still feels fresh and contemporary. Its themes of passion, obsession, sex, and violence are just as relevant today as they were in the 1940's, and the action scenes are fast and full of tension. Peggy Cummins is wonderful as Laurie Starr, and has the art of "bad girl" down to perfection. She is the very embodiment of Man's doom, whose deadly siren call must be obeyed. John Dall is excellent as the mentally tortured and utterly helpless Bart, whose life is torn asunder by the woman he can't live without (I feel I can relate to this all too well). The differing views of these doomed lovers also illustrate the theme that guns don't kill, people kill. Interestingly, the original title of the film, "Deadly Is The Female," gives the film a completely different tone than the re-issued title, "Gun Crazy," making you wonder what the true intent and focus of the film is. The cinematography is good and utilizes the dark shadows of the noir motif well. The action scenes are brisk and dynamic, although rear projection and under-cranking occasionally lessen the dramatic impact. Good stuff.