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Gun Crazy (1950): Not so Bonnie and Clyde

guncrazy25 sm1 Gun Crazy (1950): Not so Bonnie and ClydeViolent femme and husband with a gun fetish decide to emulate Bonnie & Clyde (Orig title: Deadly is the Female, King Bros Productions 1950, Directed by Joseph H. Lewis, 86 mins)

I greatly admire Lewis’s film noir The Big Combo (1955), but Gun Crazy is a lesser work.  I am not sure it is even a film noir.

While there is a potent mix of sex and violence, layered with psycho-sexual motifs and fetishes, the narrative lacks tension and some scenes are very slow. Peggy Cummins is strong as the psychopathic urban gun-slinger, Laurie, but there is no depth or history to this woman who kills on reflex and with no remorse. The rest of the cast is ok only, and it is the director’s signature obsession with violence as a sexual psychosis that drives the story.  Gun Crazy is really a robbers-on-the run movie with noir pretensions, and these are only really evident in the climactic early morning shoot-out at the end in a fog-laden creek.  Bart, Cummins’ partner in crime, achieves some sort of redemption by shooting Laurie dead before she can kill two of his un-armed child-hood friends, one a deputy sheriff, who approach them  pleading that they give themselves up, after which he is killed in a hail of police bullets.  There is a tragic irony here: the man who is not a killer kills his reason for being.

The much-acclaimed long take inside the get-away car before, during, and after a bank robbery, is innovative for the period, but the action is flat until after the heist and they are pursued by the cops.  Low and high camera angles are used by Lewis to express mood and suggest sexual undercurrents, but if they operate on the audience, do so only unconsciously. While much has also been made of the ‘amour fou’ of the two protagonists, it is more an instinctual sexual attraction that is sustained on Laurie’s part by the sexual gratification that she achieves in their life crime.

Interesting historically and although it transcends its b origins, Gun Crazy is not a great movie. It’s cult status has more to do with the perversity of the theme and the performance of Cummins, than its merits as a filmic work.

guncrazy22 Gun Crazy (1950): Not so Bonnie and Clyde

4 Comments

  1. Lee

    Though, I think I probably liked the film better than you did Tony, I agree with a lot of what you are saying here. I did find it to be a an intense film that held my interest for the most part. That long take that you mentioned, filmed from the back seat of the car during the heist, is exquisite. And the denoument where the tension ratchets as the noose is tightened on the doomed lovers is deliciously fatalistic.

    However, you are right, the psyches of the two characters are only very shallowly explored. And while Peggy Cummins is quite terrific, her counterpart John Dall is barely adequate in his role. If anything, his performance, along with the acting on some of the supporting roles, is where Gun Crazy shows itself most conspicuously as a B movie. And certainly the script misses a lot of opportunities. The dialogue lacked the snap that could have made the film more memorable & added some depth to the characters. Still, to my mind this is a good solid film, if not quite a great one.

  2. Thanks for your take Lee. There is a good discussion of how Lewis put together the heist sequence in the documentary Film Noir: Bringing Darkness To Light, which can be viewed on YouTube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aW-gGdqfpM. Apparently Dall and Cummins were allowed to ad-lib their dialog inside the car as the approached the bank.

  3. Lee

    Nice, many thanks for the link! Will check that out soon.

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