Saturday, August 16, 2008

Film Ignorance #12: Gun Crazy

Another day, another Film Ignorance entry in the world of noir. If you don't know already, this is Film Noir Month at MovieZeal, and that site will be running its own (undoubtedly inferior) review of Gun Crazy. Not to mention numerous other noir-related reviews and features.

Film: Gun Crazy
Rating: Yep, It's a Classic
Director: Joseph L. Lewis
Stars: John Dall, Peggy Cummins
Year: 1949
Reason for Ignorance: Never heard of it

Ignorance Rating*: Pending

Bart Tare (John Dall) is a regular kid. Although he's an orphan, his sister has done a great job raising him. He's a nice, well-adjusted boy who usually behaves well in school. He's got a few close friends, including the sheriff's son. He may not be the brightest kid who ever lived, but by all accounts he's a good guy. Except Bart likes guns a whole lot.

Now, it doesn't seem to be the most unhealthy obsession. He kills a baby chicken with a BB gun once, and is so horrified by the experience he vows never to kill again. He wants to have a profession that involves guns, but he certainly doesn't want to hurt anybody. He's not mean, or cruel, or deranged. He just likes guns.

This film is a nice psycho-analytic companion piece to White Heat. In White Heat, Cody Jarret becomes deranged because all of his sexual desires are tied up with his mother. In Gun Crazy, Bart Tare begins a life of crime because he finally finds a sexual object that gratifies his love for guns. The object in question is Annie Starr (Peggy Cummins), a carnival sharpshooter who returns his favors because she sees in him a kindred, gun crazy spirit.

In the misogynistic world of film noir, Bart is a lovable guy who just happens to like guns. But Annie is something worse - the film's alternate title is "Deadly is the Female." Annie wants a life of crime, and she drags Bart into it. But while she certainly is a femme fatale, Annie's not out to get Bart. She just wants to go a little deeper into the world of guns and violence than he does; while he's fascinated by it but ultimately too good-hearted to delve into it, Annie is willing to kill. But their relationship does flourish; like Bonnie and Clyde a couple of decades later, their sexual life is ignited by their life of crime.

Gun Crazy probably has the most authentic relationship of any film noir I've yet seen. Annie and Bart's dialogue is perfectly naturalistic, and they bicker and make up and bicker again just like any other couple. Dall is perfectly suited to play Bart, who would be a harmless screwball if his attraction was for anything besides guns. Cummins makes Annie a sympathetic femme fatale, a woman who's a bit further off than Bart, but who loves him and who is a far cry from the vicious femme fatale type. Their relationship especially shines through in their last heist, which is shot in a single take, from the back of their car, and features a real small town and improvised dialogue to heighten the naturalism. Seeing them actually drive the car through town gave me enormous joy, especially when Hitchcock would still be splicing cars and scenery together more than a decade later.

The authenticity of their relationship, and their deep feelings for each other, make this film a classic. Annie might be bad news, but she's also just like Bart: a lost soul who briefly found happiness with another of the same type. As such, Gun Crazy is just one happy ending away from being a screwball comedy - a happy ending that we know, from the very first scene, isn't coming.

*The "Ignorance Rating" is the percentage of people who voted "Yes" on the poll for this film. If ten people vote in the poll, and 5 of them have seen the movie, I give it an ignorance rating of 50. It's just a ballpark way for me to know how egregious my ignorance was in this case.

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