Yes, Peggy Cummins is sexy and erratic, and folks just can’t help fetishizing on the “outlaw on the run” motif, but GUN CRAZY is not the epitome of Joseph H. Lewis’ filmmaking. That would be THE BIG COMBO, which smears obsessiveness across all its major and minor characters with a force equal to the paint-bombing of a Jackson Pollack, has a heroine who’s actually kinkier due to her passivity, brings torture to the forefront fifty years ahead of the Bush administration (take a deep breath, Mike!) AND has John Alton to boot. Writing a book about GUN CRAZY is valorizing all of the ersatz elements of film noir, the part that leads to “all you need is a girl and a gun” nonsense and a fundamental misinterpretation of the noir impulse, which is first and foremost alienation. Eye candy is often dandy but “outlaw babes” just kowtow to the male gaze and don’t get to the root of noir’s ultimate existential disconnection. (As Sartre said, hell is other people. And THE BIG COMBO even makes alienation into something relentlessly, recursively obsessive. Even the “happy” ending is encased in an imprisoning greyscale.)
So set aside Peggy’s gams, Jim, and embrace the deathwish-encrusted maze that permeates the necronexic world of THE BIG COMBO. It’s noir’s best director-DP “combo” since Mann & Alton’s second collaboration RAW DEAL, the origin point for the cycle’s increasing fascination with sadism. Everything that follows THE BIG COMBO in this regard is cheap imitation, and bereft of the twisted, tawdry psychological depth that it manifests.