Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Gun Crazy

Bart Tare was a good kid that got sent to reform school because of his love of guns. As an adult he returns from the army ready to start life clean until he meets Laurie Starr a carnival sharp-shooter, and the only gun as good as he is. When Bart & Annie eventually flee the carnival and marry they can’t make ends meet, and Annie’s dark nature comes out as she convinces Bart to pursue a life of crime with her.

Gun Crazy comes near the end of the classic noir period and it shows. While the film is enjoyable and intriguing, there is something about it that is not as purely noir as a film like Double Indemnity or Out of the Past. For lack of a better way to say it, Gun Crazy is a noir that feels like it’s trying to be sensational and dark; in earlier noirs this simply was an intrinsic part of the film, not the reason for which it was made. It is this reason that Gun Crazy isn’t as easy a watch as other noirs, simply because you feel as though you are being forced into the world of Bart and Annie.

From the opening frames I was immediately struck with the fact that Gun Crazy was shot primarily on a soundstage, something earlier noirs broke out of, and it adds an artificial feel to the shots onscreen – the depth of field is too shallow, the rain too intense, and the lighting too pretty. Then there is the fact that we are forced into the back story of Bart, a back story I feel like I could have done without – he would have been a stronger, more mysterious character without it. Perhaps, the films only real flaw is that it tries to focus on Bart, when the real fascination of the piece is Laurie.

From the moment we meet Annie she is fascinating; a carnival cowgirl in her costume, shooting blanks at the audience with a manic look in her eye – that introductory shot is actually the entire reason I put Gun Crazy in my Netflix queue, it’s that strong. Annie is a dark tangle of a woman, a femme fatale who for a few brief moments tries to be the angel of the piece only to discover she’s better at being tarnished. What never becomes clear, and perhaps makes Annie most fascinating is that you can spend the whole movie wondering if she truly loves Bart or is simply manipulating Bart using his love for her.

Gun Crazy may not be the best noir I’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t discount it’s place in the genre. This is one heck of a tale, one that undoubtedly inspired Bonnie and Clyde and a slew of crime films since. It’s a pretty striking view of the era, and how women were looked upon and I would say that Annie herself is a rejection of the female norm. And now that I’ve gone all film scholar on you, I’ll come back out to the real world and say this: Gun Crazy is a pretty entertaining film, even if it’s not pure noir.

Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Writers: MacKinlay Kantor & Dalton Trumbo
Annie Laurie Starr: Peggy Cummins
Bart Tare: John Dall

Annie: Bart, I've been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I'm gonna start kicking back.

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