Deadlier is the Female – Rediscovering ‘Gun Crazy’ (US – 1950 -86 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - October 23, 2013
Deadlier is the Female –  Rediscovering ‘Gun Crazy’ (US – 1950 -86 mins)

Considered by many to be the greatest B movie ever made, Joseph H. Lewis’ 1950 thriller ‘Gun Crazy’ is that gem of a movie that you seem to stumble upon, but never forget. The fast pace, with the closeness of the camera to the actors, gives you the exciting feeling that you are right amongst the action.

Originally titled ‘Deadly is the Female’, this simple tale has carnival sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) meeting up with gun obsessed Bart Tare (John Dall). Broke and in love, the couple are soon embarking on a nationwide robbery spree, with the trigger-happy Laurie becoming more enamoured with their life of crime. But with Bart keen to end the spree, they agree to one last job, ultimately leading to their downfall.

Featuring some beautifully lit close-ups and memorable images, perhaps the most famous scene was the three and a half minute bank heist. Shot in one take, nobody other than the actors and the people inside the bank were aware that a movie was being made. At the end of the scene you can actually hear somebody in the background scream that a robbery is taking place. This was a genuinely concerned onlooker.

John Dall, appearing two years after his charismatic star turn in Hitchcock’s 1948 ‘Rope’ gives perhaps his best performance, while Peggy Cummins is astonishing as the girl he falls for. Former B-movie western director Joseph H. Lewis was at his creative peak here. A talented man, he would never again be this stylish or visually creative.  Lewis spent the years up until his retirement in 1966 directing TV episodes of ‘The Rifleman’, ‘Bonanza’ and ‘Gunsmoke’.

Twenty three year old Peggy Cummins was the real revelation here. The pretty, Welsh born actress arrived in Hollywood in 1945 to star in Otto Preminger’s ‘Forever Amber’, but found herself replaced by Linda Darnell after executives decided she was too young and not well known enough for the part. After a couple of good roles in the suspenseful ‘Moss Rose’(1947) and the family horse drama ‘Green Grass of Wyoming’(1948), Cummins would return to the UK in 1950 shortly after making ‘Gun Crazy’, where she continued to act. Talented Cummins never really found another juicy role to match her talent, with only the male dominated ‘Hell Drivers’  and the terrific cult movie ‘Night of the Demon’ (both 1957) standing out. Settling down to married life, Peggy retired from acting in 1961.

With superbly realised scenes, and two magnificent central performances, this is one of those movies where even people that don’t care for Black & White films, are guaranteed to enjoy. As much as I love 1967’s ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ ‘Gun Crazy’ is for me, my favourite Couple-on-the Run movie, which I never tire of watching.

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