Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joseph H. Lewis|
|Produced by||Frank King|
|Screenplay by||Dalton Trumbo|
|Based on||"Gun Crazy"|
1940 story in The Saturday Evening Post
by MacKinlay Kantor
|Music by||Victor Young|
|Edited by||Harry Gerstad|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
Gun Crazy (also known as Deadly Is the Female) is a 1950 film noir directed by Joseph H. Lewis, and produced by Frank King and Maurice King. The production features Peggy Cummins and John Dall in a story about the crime-spree of a gun-toting husband and wife.
The screenplay by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo—credited to Millard Kaufman because of the blacklist—and by MacKinlay Kantor was based upon a short story by Kantor published in 1938 in The Saturday Evening Post.  In 1998, Gun Crazy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
At the age of fourteen, Bart Tare robs a hardware store and steals a gun. He is sent to reform school by a sympathetic Judge Willoughby (Morris Carnovsky), despite the testimony of his friends Dave and Clyde, his older sister Ruby and others that he would never kill any living creature, even though he has had a fascination with guns even as a child. Flashbacks provide a portrait of Bart who, after he kills a young chick with a BB gun at age seven, is hesitant to harm anyone with guns even though he is a good shot with a pistol.
After reform school and a stint in the Army teaching marksmanship, Bart (John Dall) returns home. He, Dave (Nedrick Young) and Clyde (Harry Lewis) go to a traveling carnival in town. Bart challenges sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) to a contest and wins. She gets him a job with the carnival, and he becomes smitten with her. Their attraction inflames the jealousy of their boss, Packett (Berry Kroeger), who wants Laurie for himself. As Packett tries to force himself on her, Bart enters and shoots a mirror. Laurie and Bart get fired and leave together.
The couple get married and embark on a happy honeymoon. She warns him beforehand that she is "bad, but will try to be good". When their money runs out, though, Laurie gives Bart a stark choice: join her in a career of crime or she will leave him. They hold up stores and gas stations, but the money does not last long. While fleeing a police car, Laurie tells Bart to shoot at the policeman driving so they can escape, but he hesitates and becomes somewhat disoriented. Ultimately, he shoots the tire out and the couple escapes. Later that day, Laurie intends to shoot and kill a grocer they had just robbed, but Bart prevents her from doing so. The couple have now been identified in national newspapers as robbers and murderers.
Bart says he is done with a life of crime. Laurie persuades him to take on one last big robbery so they can flee the country and live in peace and comfort. They get jobs at a meat processing plant and make detailed plans. When they hold up the payroll office, a secretary pulls the burglar alarm and Laurie shoots her dead. From the car, Laurie kills a security guard as well. The two are supposed to split up for a couple of months and have separate getaway cars to minimize the chances of both being caught, but neither can bear to be away from the other. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is brought in, and the fugitives become the targets of an intense manhunt, yet they evade a statewide dragnet and escape to California.
Bart arranges for passage to Mexico, but the FBI tracks them to a dance hall by using the serial numbers of bills from the meat plant. They are forced to flee, leaving all their loot behind. With roadblocks everywhere, they jump on a train and get off near his sister Ruby's house. Bart's old friend, now the local sheriff, notices that Ruby's house has the curtains drawn and the children are not in school. He informs Bart's other old friend, now a news reporter, and the two plead with Bart to give himself and Laurie up. Instead, the couple flee into the mountains where Bart used to go camping. Pursued by police dogs, they are surrounded in reed grass the next morning. In dense fog, Dave and Clyde approach to try to save their lives. As soon as Bart sees Laurie preparing to gun them down, he shoots her and is in turn killed by the police.
The picture originally was slated to be released by Monogram Studios. However, King Brothers Productions, the producers, chose United Artists as the distributor. Gun Crazy enjoyed wider exposure because it was a United Artists release.
In an interview with Danny Peary, director Joseph H. Lewis revealed his instructions to actors John Dall and Peggy Cummins:
- I told John, "Your cock's never been so hard," and I told Peggy, "You're a female dog in heat, and you want him. But don't let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting." That's exactly how I talked to them and I turned them loose. I didn't have to give them more directions.
The bank heist sequence was shot entirely in one long take in Montrose, California, with no one besides the principal actors and people inside the bank alerted to the operation. This one-take shot included the sequence of driving into town to the bank, distracting and then knocking out a patrolman, and making the get-away. This was done by simulating the interior of a sedan with a stretch Cadillac with room enough to mount the camera and a jockey's saddle for the cameraman on a greased two-by-twelve board in the back. Lewis kept it fresh by having the actors improvise their dialogue.
Critic and author Eddie Muller wrote, "Joseph H. Lewis's direction is propulsive, possessed of a confident, vigorous simplicity that all the frantic editing and visual pyrotechnics of the filmmaking progeny never quite surpassed."
Sam Adams, critic for the Philadelphia City Paper, wrote in 2008: "The codes of the time prevented Lewis from being explicit about the extent to which their fast-blooming romance is fueled by their mutual love of weaponry (Arthur Penn would rip off the covers in Bonnie and Clyde, which owes Gun Crazy a substantial debt), but when Cummins' six-gun dangles provocatively as she gasses up their jalopy, it's clear what really fills their collective tank."
Rotten Tomatoes reported that 97% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 34 reviews.
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "We go together, Laurie. I don't know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together." - Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Gangster Film
- Gun Crazy at the TCM Movie Database.
- Gun Crazy at the American Film Institute Catalog.
- BY WAY OF REPORT: Previewing a Theatre and Other Film Matters Love Seats Busy Kantor Glamour's Power By A.H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 27 Oct 1946: 67.
- Erikson, Hal. Gun Crazy at AllMovie.
- STUDIO BRIEFS Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 Apr 1949: B7
- Peary, Danny. Cult Movies, Delta Books, 1981. ISBN 0-517-20185-2.
- Muller, Eddie. Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, St. Martin's Griffin, 208 pages, 1998.
- Adams, Sam Archived 2008-05-22 at the Wayback Machine. Philadelphia City Paper, film review, July 29-August 4, 2004. Accessed: August 1, 2013.
- Gun Crazy at Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed: August 1, 2013.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
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