Friday, March 25, 2011

Signal Watch Watches: Gun Crazy

I first watched Gun Crazy years ago as part of a DVD Film Noir set. Honestly, aside from a few themes and Peggy Cummins in her cowgirl outfit, I really didn't remember a whole lot about the movie thanks to a 102 fever and a tough case of the flu.

best.  flirting scene.  ever.
Basically, the movie is about mixing guns, desperation and sex into one big ball of wax, and its hard to argue with the results.  John Dall plays a hard-luck case (Bart Tare) who's been obsessed with guns since childhood, and who realizes early on that the only thing he's good at is shooting.  Out of Juvie and out of the army after a stint as a weapons specialist, Tare comes home, unemployed but optimistic.  At the fair, he meets Laurie Ann Starr, the carnival sharp shooter, and what commences is a peculiar if oft-imitated flirtation as Laurie and Bart one up one another with gun tricks.

Soon enough, Bart and Laurie are jungled up and out of money, and Laurie's peculiarly devious side emerges.  Insisting on a flashy, fast lifestyle, Laurie puts the screws to Bart to either join her in a hold-up spree or forego their quicky marriage (and we're to understand quite a bit in the way of bedroom antics).

Stick-up artists don't necessarily make good protagonists, but the writers insist that Bart has a thing about killing, and so the spree has a sort of romantic vibe, until he realizes its not his own worst impulses he has to worry about. 

You have to admire them for knowing exactly what they're selling
The movie predates the far more famous Bonnie and Clyde, but its hard to believe that the producers of that movie hadn't seen Gun Crazy, right down to Faye Dunaway's sassy little beanie emulating the one worn by Cummins in the first reel. 

Its like when they're slow bringing out Jamie's french toast
There's just a whole lot at play in the movie that, while unspoken, isn't exactly glossed over when it comes to the odd-ball romance of the pair.  The movie doesn't suggest that they aren't in love, but its a strange co-dependency of two people who never, ever should have found each other in this crazy, mixed up world.  Its romance that burns hottest when bullets ar flying, and that tends not end well for anybody.

Unlike the movie's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, even the protagonists of the movie acknowledge the cowardice of pulling a gun, and that's its own theme in the movie.  Certainly not something we'd see out of Mickey and Mallory by the time Natural Born Killers hit the screen.

The movie is obviously made on the cheap (neither Cummins nor Dall were superstars) but there's a lot of spirit, right down to some interesting camera work (a backseat single camera shot during a heist) and even the final shots of the movie are imaginative.  In a lot of ways, the movie manages to successfully pull off what I can never quite figure out how studios screw-up:  if you have a limited budget, shouldn't story and characters become a major focus?  And figuring out how to do a lot with what you've got?

Anyhow, I liked this the first time I watched it while sweating through the flu, and I liked it a whole lot more when I wasn't  hallucinating my way through the plot.

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