Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Noir Watch: Gun Crazy (1950)

This is, I believe, the fourth time I've watched Gun Crazy (1950), a movie about a guy, a girl, their guns and how it all gets a smidge out of control.  It's a movie both entirely of its time, but points the way for movies that would come along within 20 years from studios who learned to take chances as the 60's steamed along (Bonnie and Clyde), and maybe reached it's wildest point with Natural Born Killers (1994).

I'd label the movie safely noir.  Two people that can't control themselves who, through their actions and inactions, get in way over their heads with no path out.  When Bart Tare (John Dall) meets Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), it's the worst possible combination for both of them as their obsession with guns gets mixed up in greed, sex and an inability to find a groove in square living.

Of the two, certainly Laurie seems the far more wordly, and also the one who was probably a lost cause before all this even started.  Bart never seems much more than the mixed up boy we meet in the first scene (played by a very young Russ Tamblyn of Westside Story fame, listed as "Rusty" Tamblyn) - and his addiction to guns gets mixed up in his attraction to Annie Laurie, who, in turn alternately manipulates and clings to him.

The movie isn't particularly sympathetic to either character, and while it frontloads the first ten minutes with a probably unnecessary exploration of Bart's history - we avoid any awkward diagnoses of the particular psychosis of our two leads in the final reel - a weird trope of the time that would often pop up in movies that always felt driven my censorship and interference (nobody ever talks about the ending of Psycho, but, man... talk about your inexplicable trainwrecking of narrative).  

This is a movie that, since I first watched it while suffering a fever and the flu, I've thought was a hell of a set of characters, each with fascinating arcs as Annie Laurie picks up an aimless Bart (her rare equal as a sharp shooter) for her circus act and each seems to fall over and over for the other, even as they seem to set themselves into deeper and darker circumstances entirely of their own volition.  Sure, sometimes the dialog is on the nose, but it does reflect the same questions of the audience, and other times the movie feels oddly deft, including terrific camera work as sharp as the shooting of pistols in the picture.

I haven't yet read Eddie Muller's new book on the movie, and wanted to give it one last whirl before diving in and seeing all the strings and wires from now on when I watch the film.  It'll certainly change how I watch the movie going forward, so I wanted one last chance to just see it as is.

This was, of course, the last American-made movie by Peggy Cummins, which is a damn shame because she's absolutely electric in this flick in a way people talk about actors being, but they're using some hyperbole.  Annie Laurie Starr enters with guns blazing, literally, and - for being sold in the movie as London's finest export (Cummins was actually Irish) - the mix of guns, sex and manic insecurity feels pretty American.

Anyway, something for y'all to catch when you get a chance.

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