Directed By: Joseph H. Lewis
Starring: Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Berry Kroeger
Tag line: "The Flaming Life of LAURIE STARR (The Lethal Blonde)"
Trivia: Bart Tare and Laurie Starr are modeled on the infamous Depression-era bandits Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker
Ever since he was a kid, Bart Tare (John Dall) has been obsessed with guns. But as his friends and older sister, Ruby (Anabel Shaw), will tell you, Bart may like to shoot, but he hates violence, and can’t bring himself to kill anything. When the carnival comes to town, Bart meets Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), a trick shot artist who’s also pretty handy with a pistol. For Bart, it’s love at first sight, yet as far as Laurie is concerned, Bart is nothing more than her ticket to easy street. When the new couple has a hard time making ends meet, Laurie gives Bart an ultimatum: join her in a life of crime, holding up small stores and gas stations, or she’ll leave him forever. Against his better judgment, Bart does exactly what Laurie says, and before long, the two are the most wanted criminals in the state.
Gun Crazy, a 1950 film noir directed by Joseph H. Lewis, goes to great lengths to paint its lead character as a nice guy who just happens to love guns. In the film’s opening scene, a teenage Bart (played by a very young-looking Russ Tamblyn) breaks a store window and steals a revolver from the front display. Yet, despite the fact he’s committed a crime, a bunch of people come to Bart’s defense at his trial, telling the judge (Morris Carnovsky) he’s basically a good kid. John Dall does a fine job as the adult Bart, playing him as naïve in matters of the heart, yet, at the same time, fully aware of how the world works. Cummins is equally as strong as the scheming Laurie, who’s able to get Bart to do her bidding. But as the film progresses, so does her attitude, and by the movie’s halfway point, Laurie is as much in love with Bart as he is with her. It’s an interesting twist in what proves to be a fascinating motion picture.
I usually try to avoid spoilers, but because it was made in 1950, the Hollywood Production Code, the self-proclaimed protector of American morality, spoiled Gun Crazy already by insisting it end a certain way (thus driving home the point that there’s no future in a life of crime). Yet, having spent the better part of 90 minutes in their company, I was really pulling for Bart and Laurie, two likable characters who found themselves on the wrong side of the law, and even if they didn’t deserve a happy ending, I was hoping they’d get one anyway.
Gun Crazy is definitely one of those instances where I wish the Production Code would have taken the day off.