Gun Crazy

Year 1950

Peggy Cummins   as  Annie Laurie Starr
John Dall as Barton Tare
Berry Kroeger as Packett
Harry Lewis as Clyde Boston
Nedrick Young as Dave Allister
Director - Joseph H. Lewis
Screenwriters - Dalton Trumbo
front Millard Kaufman  
  - MacKinlay Kantor
Story - MacKinlay Kantor

Gun Crazy has been compared to the movie Bonnie and Clyde and with good reason. A crazy in love couple rob a bunch of banks and the law catches up with them eventually.

This is one of those movies that probably should have been better. From what I gather, this movie is liked by people on the web to the point of it being a cult classic. Even Martin Scorcese weighs in on how wonderful this movie is. Maybe from a directorial point of view, it's the cat's pajamas. From a viewer's point of view, it's not exactly in the litter box, but it's not in a separate room either.

A quick comment on Lewis' direction. It's one thing to be a cinematographer and frame shots and get lighting just right and add peripheral touches to embue with realism and all that. It's quite another to get emotions across to the audience and maintain coherence and credible dialog. For all the good that Lewis did on the first, he failed on the last.

Then there's the script. Dalton Trumbo may be a sacred cow to some, but not to me. Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted during the Red Scare of the 40s-50s so he had to have others submit his work for him. For this movie, screenwriter Millard Kaufman was Trumbo's front man. Without commenting on the witch hunt directly, I have to say that what Trumbo suffered does not entitle him to any special favors when it comes to discussing his work.

In the movie Barton Tare (Dall) has a gun fetish. He likes guns and he's good with them. He's a law abiding citizen who just happens to like to shoot guns. Considering this started when he was seven, I wouldn't say that it's compensation for something. It's just him.

Then along comes Annie Laurie Starr (Cummins). She's a cowgirl sharp-shooter in a carnival who, according to spiel touted about her by the ring-master, is European. Barton falls for the girl because she's good looking AND good with a gun. But she's a bad girl. As an example, before the two crazy kids get married, his concience bothers him and he confesses to her that he spent time in reform school. She tells him that it does not matter. She does not tell him about how she's wanted for killing a man. That would be the kind of thing that I'd my fiancée to confide in me. But then maybe I'm not giving her enough space.

Either way, it's a problem that manages to rear it's head from time to time. It's especially bothersome to Barton when he decides not to shoot anyone during a hold-up and she's ready to blast away. She explains that when she's scared, she just has to kill someone, but Barton thinks that might be a bit extreme.

Barton is a nice, clean-cut, salt of the earth kind of guy who wouldn't be robbing anyone if it wasn't for his wife. They're in love with each other and are fated to be together, but they have different ideas on the worth of a human life.

This movie had elements of the novel The Getaway, Jim Thompson's 1958 masterwork, in it. They are two separate works, but are reminiscent of each other. But whereas The Getaway had you believing in the relationship between the couple throughout the novel, Gun Crazy is hit and miss (Hit and miss? Guns? Nevermind.) most of the time. In both the novel and movie, the couple plan to escape to Mexico. That's what forced the comparison on me.

How about the way Barton and Annie "plan" their robberies? Charles Grodin's line from Midnight Run can be adapted to "You guys are the dumbest bank robbers I've ever seen!" Masks? Forget that. Case the joint? What a waste of time.

Then there's the big heist. They both get jobs at the place they're going to rob. How easy is that? Not very, I'd imagine, but the couple is charmed in this instance. They're going to rob the company payroll. Now I ask you, what company in 1950 paid their employees in cash? Did anyone? Weren't payroll checks en vogue back then?

And who knew that the numbers on the bills used for payroll were recorded? Or that people a thousand miles away from the heist could recognize the bills when they were used to pay for something? Who knew? Did you know?

The manner of story telling is more telling of the low budget than the story. Like Reservoir Dogs we often do not see the crime but hear about it afterward. Unlike Reservoir Dogs, there's not enough happening afterward to make us think that watching the crime would've been more exciting. Barton goes into a bank, he comes out of the bank. I think he held them up.

Coincidences happen to often to be ignored. Need a car? Just wait a second and the right person to fleece will pick you, a female hitch-hiker, up. This pigeon will even being making advances at just the right point in the journey where he needs to turn off the main road.

Still, people talk about the wonderful composition of the scenes. That's nice. It did nothing for me. What would've helped would have been if the director had managed to integrate the actors and their characters with the other actors and their characters. Dall was a good actor and Cummins a good actress. Yet they seemed to be out of synch. She looked like she was acting in a thriller and he looked like he was acting in a character study. The director should have merged the two techniques.

I'm not saying it would have been easy, but isn't that what directors are supposed to do?

It's not really a bad movie despite the cheap sets and mis-mash of pacing. (Let's spend ten minutes on waiting in traffic here and two minutes on character transformation there.) But due to the weak script and even weaker direction, I barely cared about the characters. So the ending, which should have been poignant and thought provoking proved to be just an ending.

There's no profanity, nudity, or blasphemy. It's not as torrid as it wants to be despite an attempt at steamy passion. It's not a complete waste of time and I guess if you're an aspiring cinematographer, it's a good film to study.

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