“Bart, I’ve been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I’m gonna start kicking back.”
‘Gun Crazy’, directed by Joseph H. Lewis (and partly written by Dalton Trumbo) in 1950, is an American film noir that draws on the same source material as the later ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. John Dall plays Bart Tare, a man with a troubled childhood, obsessed with guns but who has channelled that obsession into a career in the Army. On release he drifts back to his hometown and encounters a sharpshooter in a travelling carnival: Annie Laurie Starr, played by Peggy Cummins. Starr and Dall hook up, but quickly she gets him involved in crime, robbing banks. He is reluctant to hurt anyone, but she seems to be naturally inclined towards violence, and things escalate rapidly as the police begin to track them down across the country. It’s a fast paced, moody thriller with a dynamic and unusual relationship at its heart. There is a genuine sense of menace on the side of Starr, coupled with an erotic pull that emphasises the tragic decline of Dall into crime. Stand out moments include a central bank robbery, filmed in one take. The couple drive to the bank, shot from behind, Dall leaves the car, but the camera stays on Starr as she tackles a police officer. Partly improvised, this sequence is a shockingly modern, but doesn’t stand out in a movie that is part thriller and part ahead of its time character study. It’s not difficult to see the influences that Arthur Penn drew for ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, but for me, ‘Gun Crazy’ is the more visually inventive film, with a script that crackles.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a thriller that is also an important foundation for the new wave of American movies in the 1960s. Watch in a double bill with ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, or perhaps the similar noir thriller ‘Detour’ from 1945.