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When gun fancier Bart Tare sees Annie Laurie Starr’s sideshow sharpshooting act, he’s a dead-bang goner. He and she go together, as Bart ultimately says, “like guns and ammunition.” The two become bank robbers on the run, eluding roadblocks and roaring into movie history as one of the benchmark film-noir works. Joseph H. Lewis directs this ferocious thriller, selected for the National Film Registry and often cited as a forerunner to Bonnie and Clyde. Peggy Cummins and John Dall star, meeting in a sexually charged carny shooting contest and soon driven by impulses of violence and arousal they don’t fully understand. They’re young, foolish, doomed – and point blank in Gun Crazy’s unforgiving sights.
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But you're here to find out about the transfer, which so few "reviewers" here actually talk about - or the reviews are for the DVD, which has bearing on this release. So, here's what you need to know: I had the French Blu-ray of this and thought it looked pretty good, but this Warner Archive disc blows it away. It is, in a word, superb - beautiful contrast perfectly showing off Russel Harlan's great photography. Sound is mono and fine. I don't think we could have asked for better.
Now, go buy it or turn in your classic film fan card now.
The story, in brief, is about a young, troubled but basically decent young man who meets an attractive woman with a similar interest. They both love guns; he loves them more as physical objects and a way to express his skill as a marksman. She is a marksman (markswoman, marksperson?) too and loves them because they bring her power and control and are a way to satisfy her psychological appetites, her lust for control and a wealthier lifestyle. She is what we used to call a bad girl...
The male protagonist starts out as a person who is fascinated by guns to the point that as a youth he steals one and is placed in a juvenile facility for his crime. When he is released, he does his best to live a decent life. He is a great marksman and sort of a gentle guy and doesn't use guns to do harm. Then he meets the girl.
Not exactly a good influence, she in many ways is his polar opposite: although she loves guns and is an excellent shot, shooting professionally in a traveling circus, she was, I suspect, born defective -- she has no moral compass. Not even a tiny one. She is very attractive and the nice guy eagerly jumps into the vortex of her sexual seductiveness, manipulation and destructiveness. Peggy Cummins, who plays the fatal femme, is seductive and highly-persuasive in a nice, innocent-appearing girl type of way. BUT, this is someone with a big personal agenda, although I bet she would be a lot of fun at a party (if she didn't bring her gun). John Dall, the schlemiel, surrenders completely to her will. She is powerfully manipulative and he is manipulable and seducible, loving every minute of it -- until he eventually realizes that she is completely without real feeling and doesn't really give a damn what's right or wrong; nothing merits compassion nor mercy and everything must serve her needs and the classic, narcissistic nature of her psychopathic personality. She is a sharp knife wrapped in chocolate. This cute, innocent-looking chick is BTBN (Big Time Bad News). She is dominant, he is submissive, poor boy, and goes along for the roller coaster ride of his life.
She gets worse and worse, egging him on to commit various crimes with her, every crime seeming to end in a shooting and murder. She likes it that way -- killing is a big kick; he is appalled but still submissive. Together, they are a complete natural disaster. I won't tell you more -- other than there is an exciting climax.
What I liked best about this great film: never a dull moment after an ambling start; interesting camera angles and unusual-for-the-period shots; plenty of action; a great score by Victor Young incorporating a couple of his best songs; and, the performance of Peggy Cummins, which I found compelling, relentless and seductive. I could easily believe a guy falling for her petite beauty -- and unwittingly entering the gates of hell as a result -- while having a certain amount of pleasure doing it. This is really the story of the conflict between a genuine psychopath and a "normal" person who doesn't ever realize exactly what he's dealing with and yet feels powerless to resist. I found the characters to be honest and the motivations and interactions real, something you don't find that often. I also liked the fact that there are a lot of on-location shots that show an America that no longer exists, along with the old cars and interiors of some real buildings, including a bank. Are you old enough to remember when bank interiors were completely unenclosed and the tellers didn't live behind clear bulletproof cages like rabbits in a pet shop? There is definitely an element of nostalgia in this B/W film and it adds another dimension to the story -- which could easily be just as relevant and real today as it was when this film was made. It's an entertaining little treasure.
I will not reveal too many details about the plot--other reviewers have covered it extensively ( perhaps in some cases too extensively ). Bart Tare ( John Dall ) has had a passion for guns his whole life. At a carnival, he meets a sideshow sharpshooter from London, Annie Laurie Starr ( Peggy Cummins ). They are soon sharing not only a passion for guns, but an intense passion for each other ! Falling under the spell of this charismatic, young blonde--who craves excitement, action and the finer things in life--Bart is drawn into a cross-country crime spree that escalates from robbery to murder.
As one of the best "femme fatale" types in film history, Peggy Cummins gives a rivetting performance. You can't take your eyes off her, as she fanatically plunges down a road from which there is no return, taking the man she loves with her. Her character steals money--Ms. Cummins steals the movie ! As Bart, John Dall is rather stoic and one-dimensional until later in the film, when he realizes the harm he is causing others, including those who were close friends. His performance really picks up in the later scenes. Incidentally, Bart as a youth is played by Russ Tamblyn, later to spark a number of movies with his dancing and acrobatic skills.
The other "star" here is the Director, Joseph H. Lewis. His approach is refreshing and innovative. I particularly liked the scenes where you--the audience--are in the back seat of the getaway car during a heist. You cannot help but wonder how much later films like "Bonnie and Clyde", "Badlands" and "Natural Born Killers" were influenced by this low-budget masterpiece ?
I also liked the way that Lewis depicts the sexual overtones of his characters and situations, remembering that this film was first released in 1949.
Concerning the picture quality of the DVD, I see that one reviewer had some problems with the image. Personally, I found the black and white picture to be crisp and clear, especially for a film now 55 years old. The optional comments of author/film buff, Glenn Erickson, are a very nice bonus.
"Gun Crazy" provides further proof that, whether it's the 1940s or 2004, you don't need big budgets and "superstars" to make a memorable film. If you have a taut script, a talented director and even one terrific performance, you can come up with a winner. Thank you, Warner Bros !
Most recent customer reviews
Well worth your money just to marvel at Peggy Cummins' sexually charged entrance, and the nerve-rattling bank hold up...Read more
For me, as a gun owner and avid target shooter, I have a different take.Read more