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  Gun Crazy The Whole Shooting MatchBuy this film here.
Year: 1950
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Stars: John Dall, Peggy Cummins, Berry Kroeger, Morris Carnovsky, Anabel Shaw, Harry Lewis, Nedrick Young, Trevor Bardette, Mickey Little, Russ Tamblyn, Paul Frison, David Bair, Stanley Prager, Virginia Farmer, Anne O'Neal, Frances Irvin, Robert Osterloh
Genre: Thriller, Romance
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: When he was a young boy, Barton Tare (John Dall) began an obsession with guns which lasted into adulthood, and an indication of where his life was going occurred when he broke into the local guns and ammunition shop in his smalltown to steal a pistol, since he could not buy one himself and the big sister Ruby (Anabel Shaw) who was his guardian could not afford it either. He was quickly caught and sent before the judge who weighed up the character witnesses as they pointed out Bart just loved to shoot, but would never harm anyone after killing a chick in the yard as a boy, an event which left him so guilty he was incapable of firing at any living person or creature...

On the other hand, he's about to meet an Annie Oakley type in a carnival who has fewer qualms about such moral dilemmas than he does, and when they met it was moider. This brisk little film noir was perhaps the best loved of director Joseph H. Lewis's B movies, and he made quite a few that were some way above par for the low budget genres he worked in, mainly thanks to what he brought out in the actors playing his Bonnie and Clyde. They weren't that infamous pair of criminals by name of course, but writer MacKinlay Kantor (best known for originating major Oscar-winner Best Years of Our Lives) was inspired by their real life tale and it prompted him to concoct this story.

With the help of then-blacklisted author Dalton Trumbo, the man who penned classic anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun, a script was crafted, but what marked out Gun Crazy was its sense of actually watching something vital enough to be actually happening playing out before you on the screen, and much of that was down to Lewis encouraging Dall and his co-star Peggy Cummins to improvise to keep the mood fresh and even electrifying. These two had great chemistry thanks to being told by their director to emphasise the sexual in their performances, and with both well aware of precisely what was asked of them they created perhaps the definitive couple on the run in movies.

Or at least an example all who followed would be judged by, from Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the actual Bonnie and Clyde to Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette in True Romance, it was Bart and Annie Laurie whose passion would echo down the ages. They meet at a carnival, Bart looking for a job having recently been released from the Army which was not satisfying him no matter how many guns he got to fire, and Annie in a sharpshooting show where Bart is invited up on the stage to take a bet that he is the better marksman, a bet he wins. What she represents to him is the perfect woman, not merely because she's good at shooting, but because she embodies a gun herself, dangerous, even deadly in the wrong hands, but an object of great desire at the same time.

Indeed, if Gun Crazy had a message for you it was all in that title: an obsession with firearms is going to send you round the bend. For these two it's the ideal expression of their love to send the bullets flying, except that when the cops get on their tail after they start robbing banks, they think it's Bart who is the leader, when he is strictly being led as he may be Annie's enabler, but it is she who wears the (tight-fitting) trousers. In fact, as we know he would never kill anyone, he's just not capable, it is the female who is the murderer and goes about it with such unseemly relish she's impossible to forget; both Dall (who made too few films) and Cummins were never better, but there's something verging on the obscene about her behaviour in the Annie role that continues to fascinate. For Lewis, his contribution was no less valuable: note how he keeps the action moving by staging so much of it in cars, including the worldbeating, semi-improvised robbery filmed from the back seat which generates tension he manages to sustain right to the end. A gem. Music by Victor Young.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Joseph H. Lewis  (1907 - 2000)

Dependable American B-movie director who turned his hand to westerns (Terror in a Texas Town) and horrors (Invisible Ghost) but was especially good at thrillers: My Name is Julia Ross, So Dark the Night, The Big Combo among them. His most celebrated film is the "Bonnie and Clyde"-inspired Gun Crazy. He left the movies to become a television director in the 1950s.

 
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