When gun-obsessed pacifist Bart Tare (John Dall) witnesses expert shooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) demonstrate her firearm prowess at a carnival one night, its love at first sight. Aimless Bart joins the traveling show and begins a romance with Annie, but her dangerously rebellious spirit soon gets them both fired. After eloping, the young lovers embark on an armed robbery spree, managing to elude the authorities until Annie insists on pulling one last job.
Gun Crazy (also known as Deadly Is the Female) is a 1950 film noir feature film 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 1940 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."
Bart Tare is an ex-Army man who has a lifelong fixation with guns, he meets a kindred spirit in sharpshooter Annie Starr and goes to work at a carnival. After upsetting the carnival owner who lusts after Starr, they both get fired. Soon, on Starr's behest, they embark on a crime spree for cash. Subjects of a manhunt, they are tracked by police in the hills Tare enjoyed as a boy.
At the age of 14, 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. There, Bart challenges sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) to a shooting contest, and wins. She gets him a job with the carnival, and he becomes smitten with her. However, their attraction to each other 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 behind Packett. They both 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 they steal 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.
While snowed in, Bart says he is done with a life of crime. She 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. They hold up the payroll office, but as they are leaving, the secretary pulls the burglar alarm and Laurie shoots the secretary dead. As they are fleeing the scene, Laurie shoots and 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 of them being caught, but neither can bear to be away from the other that long. The FBI is brought in, and the fugitives become the targets of an intense manhunt, yet they evade a state-wide dragnet and escape to California.
In California, Bart arranges for passage to Mexico, but the FBI tracks them down to a dance hall by using the serial numbers from bills from the meat plant. They are forced to flee, leaving all their loot behind. With no place else to go and roadblocks everywhere, they jump on a train and go to his sister Rubys house. Barts old friend, now a reporter, notices that Rubys house has the curtains drawn and the children are not in school. He informs Barts other old friend, now the local sheriff, 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 in the summer. They run while being pursued by police dogs, but are surrounded in reed grass the next morning. Fog surrounds them, but Dave and Clyde approach them to try to save their lives. When Bart sees Laurie preparing to gun them down, he shoots her and is in turn killed by the police.
The screenplay was credited to Kantor and Millard Kaufman; however, Kaufman was a front for Hollywood Ten outcast Dalton Trumbo, who considerably reworked the story into a doomed love affair.
The picture was originally slated to be released by Monogram Studios. However, the producers, King Brothers Productions, chose United Artists as the distributor. Gun Crazy enjoyed wider exposure since 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 cocks never been so hard," and I told Peggy, "Youre a female dog in heat, and you want him. But dont let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting." Thats exactly how I talked to them and I turned them loose. I didnt 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 jockeys 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. Lewiss 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, "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, its clear what really fills their collective tank."
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 97% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on twenty-nine reviews.
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."
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