Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy (also known as Deadly Is the Female)[1] is a 1950 American crime film noir directed by Joseph H. Lewis, and produced by Frank and Maurice King. The production features Peggy Cummins and John Dall in a story about the crime-spree of a gun-toting husband and wife.[2]

Gun Crazy
Gun Crazy (1950 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoseph H. Lewis
Screenplay byDalton Trumbo
MacKinlay Kantor
Based on"Gun Crazy"
1940 story in The Saturday Evening Post
by MacKinlay Kantor
Produced byFrank King
Maurice King
StarringPeggy Cummins
John Dall
CinematographyRussell Harlan
Edited byHarry Gerstad
Music byVictor Young
Production
company
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • January 20, 1950 (1950-01-20) (United States)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

The screenplay by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo—credited to Millard Kaufman because of the blacklist—and by MacKinlay Kantor was based upon a short story by Kantor published in 1940 in The Saturday Evening Post.[3] In 1998, Gun Crazy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[4][5]

PlotEdit

At the age of fourteen, Barton "Bart" Tare botches a burglary of a hardware store to steal a gun and gets caught. He is sent to reform school for four years by a sympathetic Judge Willoughby, despite the testimony of his friends Dave and Clyde, his older sister Ruby and others, that he would never kill any living creature, even though he has had a fascination with guns even as a child. Flashbacks provide a portrait of Bart who, after he kills a young chick with a BB gun at age seven, is hesitant to shoot at anything (including a mountain lion with a bounty) although he is a good shot with a handgun.

After reform school and a stint in the Army teaching marksmanship, Bart returns home. He, Dave, and Clyde go to a traveling carnival in town. Bart challenges sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr ("Laurie") to a contest and wins. She gets him a job with the carnival, and he becomes smitten with her. Their mutual attraction inflames the jealousy of their boss, Packett, who wants her for himself. As Packett tries to force himself on her, Bart enters and fires a warning shot within an inch of his nose. Packet fires Laurie and Bart, who leave together. Packett reminds Laurie that she killed a man in St. Louis, Missouri. The couple get married and embark on a happy honeymoon on Bart’s savings. Laurie warns him beforehand that she is "bad, but will try to be good". When their money runs out, though, she gives Bart a stark choice: join her in a career of crime or she will leave him. They hold up stores and gas stations, but the money doesn't last long.

While fleeing a police car, Laurie tells Bart to shoot at the driver so they can escape, but he hesitates and becomes somewhat disoriented. Ultimately, he shoots the tire out and the car crashes. Later that day, Laurie intends to shoot and kill a grocer they had just robbed, but Bart prevents her from doing so. The couple have now been identified in national newspapers as notorious robbers.

Bart says he is done with a life of crime. Laurie persuades him to take on one last big robbery so they can flee the country and live in peace and comfort. They get jobs at a meat processing plant and make detailed plans. When they hold up the payroll office, the office manager, Miss Sifert, pulls the burglar alarm and Laurie shoots her dead. Fleeing the plant, Laurie then shoots a security guard, who later dies. Bart does not realize at the time that both victims had died and only learns about it later after reading a newspaper. This is when Laurie discloses the fact of her shooting a man dead in St. Louis when she and Packett were attempting a hold-up. She claims she only shoots people because she gets so scared she cannot think straight.

The two have separate getaway cars, and are supposed to split up for a couple of months to minimize the chances of both being caught, but neither can bear to be away from the other. The FBI is brought in, and the fugitives become the targets of an intense manhunt, yet they evade a statewide dragnet and escape to California.

Bart arranges for passage to Mexico, but the FBI tracks them to a dance hall by tracing the serial numbers of bills from the meat plant. They are forced to flee, leaving all their loot behind. With roadblocks everywhere, they jump on a train and get off near his sister Ruby's house. Clyde, now the local sheriff, notices that Ruby's house has the curtains drawn and the children are not in school. He informs Dave, now a news reporter, and the two plead with Bart to give himself and Laurie up. Instead, the couple flee into the mountains where Bart used to go camping. Pursued by police dogs, they are surrounded in reed grass the next morning. In dense fog, Dave and Clyde approach to try to save their lives. As soon as Bart sees Laurie preparing to gun them down, he shoots her and is, in turn, killed by the police.

CastEdit

ProductionEdit

The screenplay was credited to Kantor and Millard Kaufman; however, Kaufman was a front for Hollywood Ten outcast Dalton Trumbo, who considerably reworked the story into a doomed love affair.

The picture originally was slated to be released by Monogram Studios. However, King Brothers Productions, the producers, chose United Artists as the distributor. Gun Crazy enjoyed wider exposure because it was a United Artists release.[6]

The King Brothers originally announced they wanted Veronica Lake for the lead.[7]

In an interview with Danny Peary, director Joseph H. Lewis revealed his instructions to actors John Dall and Peggy Cummins:

I told John, "Your cock's never been so hard", and I told Peggy, "You're a female dog in heat, and you want him. But don't let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting." That's exactly how I talked to them and I turned them loose. I didn't have to give them more directions.[8]

The bank heist sequence was shot entirely in one long take in Montrose, California, with no one besides the principal actors and people inside the bank alerted to the operation. This one-take shot included the sequence of driving into town to the bank, distracting and then knocking out a patrolman, and making the get-away. This was done by simulating the interior of a sedan with a stretch Cadillac with room enough to mount the camera and a jockey's saddle for the cameraman on a greased two-by-twelve board in the back. Lewis kept it fresh by having the actors improvise their dialogue.

ReceptionEdit

 
Alternate theatrical release poster

Critical responseEdit

Critic and author Eddie Muller wrote, "Joseph H. Lewis's direction is propulsive, possessed of a confident, vigorous simplicity that all the frantic editing and visual pyrotechnics of the filmmaking progeny never quite surpassed."[9]

Sam Adams, critic for the Philadelphia City Paper, wrote in 2008: "The codes of the time prevented Lewis from being explicit about the extent to which their fast-blooming romance is fueled by their mutual love of weaponry (Arthur Penn would rip off the covers in Bonnie and Clyde, which owes Gun Crazy a substantial debt), but when Cummins' six-gun dangles provocatively as she gasses up their jalopy, it's clear what really fills their collective tank."[10]

Rotten Tomatoes reported that 91% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 64 reviews.[11]

RecognitionEdit

In 1998, Gun Crazy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

American Film Institute Lists

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Gun Crazy at the TCM Movie Database.
  2. ^ Gun Crazy at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  3. ^ A.H. WEILER (Oct 27, 1946). "BY WAY OF REPORT: Previewing a Theatre and Other Film Matters Love Seats Busy Kantor Glamour's Power". New York Times. p. 67.
  4. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2020-04-30.
  5. ^ "Hooray for Hollywood (December 1998) – Library of Congress Information Bulletin". www.loc.gov. Retrieved 2020-06-23.
  6. ^ Erikson, Hal. Gun Crazy at AllMovie.
  7. ^ "STUDIO BRIEFS". Los Angeles Times. Apr 11, 1949. p. B7.
  8. ^ Peary, Danny. Cult Movies, Delta Books, 1981. ISBN 0-517-20185-2.
  9. ^ Muller, Eddie. Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, St. Martin's Griffin, 208 pages, 1998.
  10. ^ Adams, Sam Archived 2008-05-22 at the Wayback Machine. Philadelphia City Paper, film review, July 29-August 4, 2004. Accessed: August 1, 2013.
  11. ^ Gun Crazy at Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed: September 14, 2021.
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees" (PDF).
  13. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills
  14. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills
  15. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF).
  16. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot

External linksEdit