Rewatching…Gun Crazy (1950, Joseph H. Lewis)

So I’ve decided to take part in Noirvember and start off by re-watching one of the first film noirs I’ve ever seen – Gun Crazy.

Originally titled Deadly is the FemaleGun Crazy‘s high energy, fascinating camera techniques and a mesmerising femme fatale to boot showcases film noir at its best.

Film noir, meaning literally “black film or cinema”, was a term coined by French film critics in 1946. As the film industry entered a post-World War II age, film noir helped in addressing the anxiety, suspicion and despair society was facing. Gun Crazy features several noir elements, like rain-slicked streets and dark alleyways, that are hard to miss.

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis, Gun Crazy tells a story of a couple who are yes, gun crazy and on the run from the law. Compared to earlier Western or gangster films of outlaw couples, the two leads, Annie and Bart (Peggy Cummins and John Dall), aren’t exactly innocent victims. Lewis’ storytelling is very fast-paced, which makes the film extremely thrilling. Like most film nors, a dark and downbeat theme prevails throughout Gun Crazy and it’s not long before the duo face difficulties leading a life of crime.

Cummins plays the beautiful but amoral femme fatale AnnieAs a corrupted and conflicted anti-heroine, she becomes the driving force behind the couple’s run from the law. I was quite drawn to her brazenness and her performance is absolutely absorbing. I really liked her introduction as well: we first see her as a gun-toting attraction at a carnival. The scene features an interesting use of a low angle, and the startling shot of her blank gun directly towards Bart becomes some sort of unfortunate foreshadowing for his eventual doom.

The pursuit story is all-round gripping as well. It is at its best in this classic heist scene that features one long, unbroken take:

There’s no ominous shadow or circling cigarette smoke in sight, but the fantastic camera work and the exhilarating soundtrack that kicks in at the end of the scene enhances the gritty realism of Gun Crazy. It’s also one of the first instances back in the 1950s where a camera is mounted to the back seat of a car (instead of a rear-screen projection for driving scenes) and the end result is pretty brilliant.

Gun Crazy‘s deep influence can definitely be seen in such classics like A bout de souffle (1959) and Bonnie & Clyde (1967). The new focus on actively rebellious characters gives films a much harder edge. Plus, ideologies, like views on patriarchal capitalism or the “American Dream”, are interlaced all around.

As critic Jim Kitses once said, “In film noir, all of America is gun crazy.” With its frantic dynamics and riveting peformances, Gun Crazy puts forward a captivating tale of love and crime to showcase a truly dark and gun-crazy America.

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