Author: msroz from United States
16 March 2017
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The forum named "The Blackboard", now become a very quiet place but once active, took a vote in 2006 on the 100 best film noirs, and "Gun Crazy" (1949) came in #6.
This is one of those films that made little stir, indeed was criticized more than praised, when it first came out; but has had its reputation rise through the years.
This film cuts through the niceties. It bares the drives and souls of its two main characters drawn or driven into a love and then an association that's sustained by robberies and then shootings and killings. The film builds its characters well, without any Hollywood gloss, without interjecting false comedy relief. Their aspirations, weaknesses, fears and uncertainties all form a basis for their crimes. The regrets, mainly of John Dall's character, combined with his attractions to Peggy Cummins and with her insecurities, place him almost into perpetual conflict. The introduction already reveals fault lines and stresses in these characters, as Dall is obsessed with guns and has even committed a juvenile crime to get them, one that led to reform school. Cummins has already participated in a murder with Berry Kroeger before we see her bond to him at his carnival. Both are gun crazy, but in vastly different ways.
The escape of this pair from the normal constraints of society leads them into an exhilarating freedom that quickly turns into pursuit. The film clocks into almost non-stop action as the two fugitives go on the run.
A movie with a similar rawness is "Baby Face Nelson" (1957). But "Gun Crazy" goes further in developing an atmosphere that somehow combines disparate elements of realism and dream, clarity and mist, control and impulse. The story and the storytelling seem constantly to be showing two poles within and between characters. The bold Cummins turns fearful at times, inducing her to kill. The hesitant Dall at times turns bold. The good youthful Dall (played by Rusty Tamblyn) is praiseworthy and won't kill, but he'll break a window and steal guns. He loves to shoot but an Army career teaching others to shoot is too boring. At first, Cummins wants Dall, but will turn on a dime unless he will help get the wealth she covets. At first, she's more or less the boss. By his attraction to her, she is the force holding them together. But later she tears up their plan for a two-car getaway and places herself solely in his command. Dall regrets robbing but then becomes the master planner. Every respite of the pair on their flight turns into more flight or another robbery.
This is a story with contrasts. Triumph of a sort leads into desperation. Love and resistance to killing turns in Dall's case into a final unexpected shot from his gun. Dall's torment from being a robber are all too real, yet to him it all seems like a dream. The clarity of the film gives way to a heated emotionality during their robberies and ultimately to an impenetrable mist that only gradually reveals their pursuers to them. Their control of others using guns gives way to an impulse that Dall had fought off earlier in the movie. The beginning plays out to its end. The rise gives way to the fall. Life gives way to death, but the passion of the lovers does not change. They would have it no other way but to follow their attraction and passion. If there is one element that does not change or provide contrast, it is this passion. Some of the passion shown in "Duel in the Sun" (1946) comes through as dominant in this movie.