A Movie A Day: Quint goes GUN CRAZY (1950) We go together... like guns and ammunition go together!
Published at: June 5, 2008, 12:25 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. Thanks for joining in. We’re covering our first noir today, 1950’s GUN CRAZY (later released under the awesome title DEADLY IS THE FEMALE).
When this flick started I didn’t think it belonged in the noir genre. Other than a dark and stormy night opening the flick, it’s a relatively bright flick and at first it seems devoid of the main characteristics of noir.
The flick opens with a kid standing out in the rain, looking through a hardware store window at a gun on display. He disappears from the window and comes back, rock in hand. He shatters the glass, reaches in and grabs the gun as well as some ammo.
At this point I thought I knew where the movie was going… okay, kid needs a gun… he either needs protection or is going to kill himself a fool. Very noiry. But as soon as he has the gun he slips on the wet road and the gun goes flying, right to the feet of a cop.
The kid goes on trial for burglary and we get to know his character through testimony from his friends and older sister. He’s a good kid who has always been good at shooting. But he’s not a killer. We see a flashback showing him prancing around with a BB gun, shooting at random things. The sister tells us how excited he was to get it and then we see him take aim at a little baby chick, fire and then realize the power he wields as he sees the dead baby bird lying on the ground.
Ever since then he refuses to kill anything. He won’t hunt, but he will sport shoot. He merely stole the gun because he always needs to have a pistol on him and he got his confiscated at school (think of this movie coming out today… the kid wouldn’t just get his gun confiscated in an “Ohhh, maaaann…” way, would he?) while showing it off to the class.
He’s good friends with the kid of the sheriff, but even that doesn’t save him from being sent to a boarding school for his crime.
This whole section is brightly lit and here’s where I thought it wasn’t going to be very noiry. This kid gets back an adult… his friends are now in respectable jobs (one inheriting the sheriff’s badge from his father, the other an editor of the town newspaper) and he’s trying to find his place in life.
Looking for a little fun, they all go the carnival and see a sharpshooting show, introducing them and us the absolutely devastating beauty of Peggy Cummins.
Watching Cummins target shoot and issuing a $500 challenge to anyone who can outshoot her was my favorite part of the movie. Our lead is hooked in and the shooting match is fucking intense. It really is one of the best scenes of its type I’ve seen.
From there, the two get together and it’s pretty clear she’s a horrible influence on him. Soon they are like a Bonnie and Clyde team, staging smart and small robberies, but her greed grows as their take does and she manipulates John Dall’s love for her for riskier jobs.
This begins a devastating and depressing downward circle with the characters almost running in a quickly shrinking circle as their fate closes in on them.
Besides the great lead performances, I was really taken by the camerawork in the film. There’s a fantastic single shot from the back seat of Dall’s car as they drive up to a bank, he gets out and runs into the bank, she sees a cop round the corner and exits the car, distracting him long enough to get him at gunpoint when Dall runs out, the bank’s alarms screaming. They get back in the car, speed off and travel a good distance, constantly looking back over their shoulders (at the camera) looking for signs of pursuit. It’s probably a 5 minute continuous shot and it’s just perfect.
The ending is abrupt, like many movies of this era, but it’s a fitting ending.
Director Joseph H. Lewis shows a mastery of storytelling in this film, an under-known classic. If you’re like me, you didn’t even know this movie existed… I first heard of it when I saw it in the Noir Box set. I guess because it doesn’t have any of the traditional noir stars, it gets overlooked.
The connection of this film to PAPILLON is a fascinating one. Dalton Trumbo was a credited writer on PAPILLON, but an uncredited writer on GUN CRAZY. Millard Kaufman, in fact, acted as a front for Trumbo who was part of the “Hollywood 10” who appeared before the HCUA during the post WW2 Red scare. They refused to answer McCarthy’s questions and were put in contempt of court… Trumbo himself spent nearly a year in prison… and he was one of the highest paid and most respected screenwriters of his day.
So, Kaufman acting as a front for Trumbo meant that Trumbo wrote GUN CRAZY, but was blacklisted from the business, so Kaufman took the credit and fronted the money for the job to Trumbo.
Trumbo remained blacklisted for nearly 10 years until Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger made it quite well known he was writing SPARTACUS and EXODUS, respectively.
Told ya’, real interesting stuff. In an interesting turn, we follow the front to our next film in the queue. Here’s the schedule for the week:
Friday, June 6th: NEVER SO FEW (1959)
Saturday, June 7th: A HOLE IN THE HEAD (1959)
Sunday, June 8th: SOME CAME RUNNING (1958)
Monday, June 9th: RIO BRAVO (1959)
Tuesday, June 10th: POINT BLANK (1967)
Wednesday, June 11th: POCKET MONEY (1972)
Thursday, June 12th: COOL HAND LUKE (1967)
Big bombshell there for the 12th, eh? I know I deserve the slings, but in my defense COOL HAND LUKE was one of those films I’ve been waiting to watch on the big screen… but there’s only so long you can wait before you have to give in and just watch the damned thing.
I really hope a lot of you were able to follow along with this article, having rented or bought Gun Crazy. It’s the perfect title, an overlooked gem of a movie… precisely what I hope to find as I dive through these movies.
What did you guys think of it? Let the conversation continue below!
Next up is NEVER SO FEW, reuniting us with Steve McQueen and introducing us to the first of many Frank Sinatra movies in the months to come.