By Philip Schweier
Before there was Bonnie and Clyde (1967) there was Gun Crazy (1950), the story of two young kids crazy in love. So in love they’d rather not work for a living, and so crazy they turn to crime.
The story begins one rainy night as 14-year-old Bart Tare (Russ Tamblyn, before he moved to New York’s West Side and joined the Jets) gazes longingly in the local hardware store window at a revolver on display. He then picks up a rock, smashes the window and attempts to make off with the firearm, only to stumble at the feet of the local constabulary.
At his hearing, it is revealed that Bart’s older sister is his only guardian, but she’s due to be married in a few weeks, and she and her betrothed want him to live with them. She relates how as a child, Bart became a crack shot with his BB gun, only to snuff out the life of an innocent barnyard chick. Realizing what he’d done, Bart showed true remorse, and would never use a gun to kill. Bart’s two best friends, Dave and Clyde, both agree.
So you see, your honor, Bart didn’t want to hurt anyone. He just wanted to have a gun, since the one he’d brought to class one day was taken away from him. (No, I’m not making that up.)
Nevertheless, it’s not Bart having a gun that’s the problem. He broke the law, and he’s going to have to go away for a while. Years later, following one stint in reform school and another in the army, Bart (John Dall) returns home. Dave (Nedrick Young) is now the editor of the local paper, and Clyde (Harry Lewis), like his father before him, is a deputy sheriff.
The three buddies head off to a carnival, where Bart challenges Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), the carnival’s sharpshooter, and wins. Bart takes a job with the sideshow, but when the carny owner tries to have his way with Annie, Bart is forced to plug him.
No, wait, that’s not how it happened, though moving in on the girl of a man who’s the best marksman after Sgt. Alvin York isn’t the brightest move a fella could make.
Instead, Bart and Annie leave the heady lights of showbiz and get married, touring the countryside and making goo-goo eyes at each other, until they find themselves in Las Vegas.
You know that saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” That goes for your money, too.
Finding themselves broke and unable to pay their bill at a two-bit fleabag hotel, the two decide to shoot their way out, taking the meager desk receipts along the way. Thus the two embark on a life of crime, hitting one small target after another.
Interesting thing about their rampage is that Annie seems the one willing and eager to dole out some lead to anyone who stands in their way. Bart’s the one who shows restraint, visions of dead chicks in his head. Eventually, they wise up that the weed of crime bears bitter fruit, and the only way for crime to pay is for them to pull one last big job – an Armour-ed car heist.
As in hot dogs; Armour hot dogs. What kind of thieves steal Armour hot dogs?!
No, it’s the payroll they’re after. They take jobs in the meat-packing plant and make plans to clean out the company. After sketching it all out, it’s agreed – how could this plan miss?
Their big day arrives, and Annie is chastised by her boss (Anne O’Neil, if I’m not mistaken) for wearing slacks at work. “Tomorrow I expect to see you in a dress,” she tells her. “Preferably something low-cut with spaghetti straps.” (Okay, I was in the kitchen during this scene, so I may not have heard that right).
True to form, it all goes horribly wrong, culminating in the deaths of Annie’s boss (I’m sure Annie felt she had it coming) and a luckless security guard. Bart is filled with guilt, but like the dutiful chump he is, he sticks by his killer wife (Wouldn’t you?!) and they take it on the lam.
They return to Bart’s hometown, where Bart’s sister is none too happy with this turn of events, but for the safety of her children, she cooperates. But Bart’s buddies Clyde and Dave soon dope out where he’s hiding. Realizing the jig is up, Bart and Annie lead the authorities on a merry chase into the mountains. Cornered, Annie’s about to open up on Clyde and Dave, but Bart won’t have it. He guns her down, just as police bullets tear into him.
I knew Bart would somehow end up killing Annie, but I figured it would come sooner. I expected her to abandon him to face the judicial music alone, and I was pleased to know the movie wasn’t so predictable.
Joseph H. Lewis directed this little melodrama, and unlike many film noir selections, it’s short on shadows and dramatic lighting, but long on interesting filmmaking. During one bank heist, he places the camera in the back seat of the car, and the audience watches the entire hold-up (shot in a single take) go down as if a passenger in the back seat. Legend has it no one outside the principal actors and people inside the bank aware that a movie was being filmed, so the reaction of bystanders on the street was real.
As for the actors, Peggy Cummins seems to be the poor man’s Lizabeth Scott, but without the husky voice. John Dall kind of reminded me of Jimmy Stewart’s smarmy brother. Tall and lanky, Dall has something of pervy grin on his face much of the time. That is, until he becomes a wanted fugitive. That would wipe the smile of anybody’s face.