Gun Crazy (1949) (AKA Deadly is the Female)

Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy – 1949

Director – Joseph H. Lewis

Starring – Peggy Cummins and John Dall

With Gun Crazy, I’m able to get into one of my favorite genres…Film Noir.  Like most film noir, the story centers around an individual or a couple of individuals who are living life on the dark side, whether it be gritty urban life, crime, or deception within a relationship.  Gun Crazy centers on the latter two.  A couple of people, in this case, an actual couple hits the road going on a crime spree along the way learning more than they want to about one another. 

Gun Crazy is one of two titles that this movie was released under in the U.S., the other was “Deadly is the Female” which is more fitting for a noir-ish film, and a lot more telling of a title.  Except for a little chunk of the beginning, the main character (John Dall) doesn’t seem particularly gun crazy, but after meeting Peggy Cummins’ character he is most certainly girl crazy.  The plot centers around his love for and almost obsession over this femme fatal.  Through his relationship with her, he is forced to give up his regular day to day life, estranging himself from his friends and family.  She seems utterly consumed by her passion for crime, and she drags him along for the ride.  He, on the other hand, is left making excuses for her and doing what he can to save her from herself.

The method of filming Gun Crazy is fairly standard except in a handful of instances.  Firstly there are a number of long shots where the two criminal lovers are first scoping, then carrying out a robbery.  These shots were done without the assistance of rear projection, with the actors actually driving through the streets of a town, requiring the actors to exit and re-enter the vehicle, interaction with other actors, all while the camera is rolling, and in one shot.  This isn’t so extraordinary except for the fact that this film was released in 1950 when film equipment was large and heavy enough that most films used sets and props to avoid these uncontrollable environments.  Most films, even today, utilize pieces of different shots taken from different angles in order to cover up the fact that everything couldn’t be filmed in one continuous shot.

The other unique, and completely underused element of this film, was the fantastically surreal set piece used at the climax of the film.  The foggy, un-naturally bright, and eerie landscape perfectly illustrates the state of Cummins and Dall’s relationship by the end of the movie.  Neither knows which way is up, which way is out, or from which way the danger is coming.  The manhunt that is going on around them exists to them only as a series of disembodied voices calling out to them.  Like the two lovers, we never see their pursuers, until that is, it’s too late to escape.

Unfortunately for the movie, and also for us, the character’s motivations never really make that much sense.  Dall’s Bart, and Cummins’ Annie seem to be driven by emotions, and circumstances that, for the most part,  go completely unexplained.  Bart’s fascination at an early age with guns, and his hunger to have one, seems to be merely a gimmick to introduce the two main characters, and is dropped later in favor of his need for Annie.  She, on the other hand is set up as an unfortunate soul forced through blackmail into a life of crime, yet she doesn’t seem sure whether she hates it or loves it.  Is it a means to an end, or cheap thrills?  Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like the actors know any more than we do, and we’re left to decide for ourselves.

Gun Crazy starts off with a decent premise, and has some solid elements backing it up, but unfortunately, it doesn’t quite follow through on it’s promise and reveals itself to be one of the numerous sensationalist crime thrillers that were so popular in it’s day.  It is never able to live up to the high standard set by others such as Double Indemnity, the Stranger, Kiss Me Deadly, or The Big Sleep.