#208) Gun Crazy (1950)

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#208) Gun Crazy (1950)

OR “The Robber Bride & Groom”

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis

Written by MacKinlay Kantor and Millard Kaufman Dalton Trumbo. Based on the short story by Kantor.

Class of 1998

No trailer, but here’s the one scene you have to watch.

The Plot: Bart Tare (John Dall) is a man with a gun obsession. He doesn’t like killing anyone, but he enjoys being a perfect marksman. One night Bart and his friends visit a travelling carnival where he meets and is instantly attracted to Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), the carnival’s resident sharpshooter. The sparks fly, so these two get married and do what every newlywed couple does: resort to a life of crime. Bart and Laurie drive around the country robbing banks and gas stations. But their reckless living takes a toll on their relationship. If only they weren’t so…Gun Crazy.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film a “quintessential ‘B movie’” and praises “its bold, stylized look”. There’s also an essay by film critic Richard T. Jameson.

But Does It Really?: More B-movies on this list, please! It’s definitely a product of its time, but “Gun Crazy” is proof that some B-movies are better than the main feature. Joseph H. Lewis and company don’t let a shoestring budget get in the way of creativity, and this film is brimming with taught direction, stunning cinematography, and outstanding lead performances by Dall and Cummins. “Gun Crazy” is a perfect example of the excellent work being done just outside the Hollywood studio system.

Shout Outs: I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure one of the flashbacks needle-drops the main theme from “Now, Voyager”.

Everybody Gets One: Director Joseph H. Lewis, and actor Peggy Cummins (who attended many a “Gun Crazy” screening in her later years). This is also the only film on the list for B-movie studio King Brothers Productions. They made “Gorgo”!

Wow, That’s Dated: Gun issues aside for one second, we get the exciting world of pre-digital cops & robbers. Cops get bulletins through teleprinters, while robbers don’t have to worry about security cameras. Simpler times indeed.

Other notes

  • The original short story of “Gun Crazy” was published in 1940 in “The Saturday Evening Post”. One wonders what the Norman Rockwell cover painting looked like that week. Something like “Freedom from Want” but with guns.
  • Hey Hollywood! Remember how you eradicated all Communists from your industry? Surprise! Millard Kaufman is a front for Dalton Trumbo! Not only is this film written by a blacklisted screenwriter, it’s written by THE blacklisted screenwriter!
  • On the one hand, this film doesn’t condone or sensationalize gun violence like the similarly themed “Badlands”. On the other hand, this movie pushes the Freudian aspect of guns to its sexiest. Either way, I squirmed a lot because of this movie’s stance on guns.
  • Young Bart is played by Russ Tamblyn, credited here as “Rusty Tamblyn”.
  • This all started when young Bart got a BB gun for Christmas. Are we sure his real name isn’t Ralphie?
  • John Dall seems to have been born with a permanent smirk. He looks like the kind of man who would kill a college friend with his gay lover as an experiment.
  • For those of you wondering about Peggy Cummins’ accent, she’s of Irish descent, born in Wales, raised in Dublin, and studied in London. Put it together and it kinda sounds like Grace Kelly.
  • Kids, the moral of the movie is “play with guns and you end up a carny”.
  • Packett kinda looks like middle-aged Orson Welles. Not quite “Third Man”, not quite “Moby Dick”.
  • If “Gun Crazy” is remembered for one scene, it’s the 3 ½ minute single take of Bart and Laurie robbing a bank in real time. The camera never leaves the backseat of their car. It’s quite impressive. Kudos to cinematographer Russell Harlan and everyone involved.
  • Bart and Laurie survive the roadblock thanks to everyone’s Clark Kent syndrome. No one recognizes them with their glasses on.
  • This film would make a great double feature with “The Hitch-Hiker”.
  • Surprise cameo by Lassie!
  • Bart and Laurie want to pull off one last job. What could possibly go wrong?
  • Laurie gets tsk-tsked for wearing slacks at the office. Where’s that revolutionary Laura Petrie when you need her?
  • This meat packing plant’s security team is one guy?
  • Say what you will about the finale, at least they’re visiting a state park. This film is to the San Gabriel Mountains what “Rebel Without a Cause” is to the Griffith Observatory.
  • Worst. Honeymoon. Ever.

Legacy

  • While not an immediate hit, the reputation of “Gun Crazy” grew over time and its influence can be sensed in such later films as “Bonnie and Clyde”.
  • “Gun Crazy” was loosely remade as 1992’s one-word “Guncrazy” starring a post-rehab Drew Barrymore.

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