Edited by Don Malcolm on 3/21/2017, 2:44 pm
And the lack of depth in story, no matter how tightened by Dalton Trumbo and expertly ensvisioned by Lewis, is precisely demonstrated in the character analysis of Annie Laurie Starr (fourth graf). The problem is that mere materialism isn't sufficient to explain how this amour fou becomes so all-consuming. And the backstory, as in many noirs of this type, is what must remain sketchy--if only to support the momentum of the story and maximize the "pace" of the narrative.
The "more tomboy than vamp" comment is very interesting, however, because it suggests a different point of connection--one that takes us to the dawn of film noir in France and a segment of the hard-boiled tradition that focuses on deadly, seductive women. If Annie Laurie is not a highly practiced femme fatale, and is just breaking loose into the gun mania that lashes her together with Bart Tare, then instead she is a teenage psychopath just waiting to be set on fire. The key here is "teenage," because the French knew that putting a precocious girl-woman into the mix as the "femme fatale" was the key to sowing the seed of prurience in the minds of the viewers (see LA NUIT DU CARREFOUR and LE DERNIER TOURNANT)--that something forbidden was in existence and its revelation would expose the decadence and corruption that it was tied to--a kind of surrogate for incest that exists in a patriarchal society the way men want younger women. (Even with patriarchy, it is only legitimized in society by various forms of egregrious wealth.)
In the case of Annie Laurie she's fallen in with such a man (although owning a carnival show ain't quite like being Cornelius Vanderbilt...) and breaks free from it, but she is ill-equipped to survive in the real world due to the psychological damage that's been inflicted. From our post-modern lens, we're looking for more overt forms of incest and molestation, but sometimes lack of love (inferiority) and jealous materialism morph into delusions of grandeur--in GUN CRAZY that formula becomes explosive due to the presence of firearms.
GUN CRAZY provides us with a paint-by-numbers version of this but it chooses to channel this madness into a thrill ride. And it does that with sufficient gusto--plus manipulating the story so that neither of these weaklings are capable of doing the "smart" thing once they're in over their heads--makes it seem as though the psychological themes were considered, then abandoned in the service of amping up the thrill ride. Trumbo's writerly ironies (the line about the two lovers going together like guns and ammo) doesn't add depth, but it certainly adds spice...
In THE BIG COMBO Lewis more clearly capitalizes on a script (ironically, written by a man--Philip Yordan--who is rarely celebrated as a craftsman and whose greatest fame/infamy is for his "front" activities)--that creates a much more potent parallel between this male obsession with younger women (ironically, Jean Wallace was in her early 30s when playing Susan Lowell, but her character is significantly younger, a fallen upper-crust prodigy on the piano whose psychological development has been arrested by her masochistic relationship with Mr. Brown). Leonard Diamond seems to be trying to "step up in class" given his prior romantic history, and it takes a rather violent awakening to pull him out of the prurient side of his zeal "for justice." The themes are verbalized in ways that are neither too didactic nor too time-consuming, they are explored in much greater depth and the parallels between Brown and Diamond are handled with great skill as regards to how these parallels dovetail with the action in the film.
All of this, of course, is a long-winded way of suggesting that I think your grade for GUN CRAZY should be less than 10/10. THE BIG COMBO is Lewis' masterpiece--rescreenings of both these films since the 2006 poll have further solidified that viewpoint.