Saturday, 2 June 2012

Gun Crazy (1950)

We screened a clip from Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950) in one of my film studies classes to lead up to Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967). Bonnie and Clyde is one of my favorite movies, but I'm never going to look at it quite the same way again. Here's a still from Bonnie and Clyde:

Warren Beatty is armed with a Faye Dunaway. Don't make any sudden moves.
And here's one from Gun Crazy, which came out almost twenty years earlier:

That beret looks awfully familiar.
Bit of a SMOKING GUN, isn't it? (Bahahaha!) I'm not accusing Penn of plagiarism, but... damn. The only noticeable difference between the shots is the color and side angle in Bonnie and Clyde. Which they do away with in this poster, along with any pretension that they're not blatantly ripping off Gun Crazy.

"A remake? Of what?"
Bonnie and Clyde gets away with this, of course, because it is a much better movie than Gun Crazy. And the fact that Gun Crazy blazed a trail for directors from Godard to Tarantino doesn't mean that it merits the 97% it has somehow received on Rotten Tomatoes. A movie can be groundbreaking and influential without actually being much good.

Gun Crazy tells the tale of Bart (John Dall), a nice guy who likes guns, and Laurie (Peggy Cummins), a bad girl who likes guns. They decide to like guns together, get married, rob some banks and meet their Censorship Code-approved doom. That's the whole movie. It's not Citizen Kane. The characters are forgettable, and why shouldn't they be? They're just animate gun racks. The largely pointless story is a little more disappointing. It's tightly paced and littered with gorgeous shots (a midway shooting contest between Bart and Laurie, the bleak white marshland where they flee the law), but there's just not much actual narrative content. The oodles and kaboodles that is merely hinted at regarding sex and violence and aggression and impotence is handled much more openly and intelligently in Bonnie and Clyde, which the Hays Office never got its greasy mitts on.

I give Gun Crazy a 3/5 (3/5 whats? I don't actually have a thing I'm measuring in. Stars? Stripes? Revolvers?). There's not a gaping hole in your life waiting to be filled by Gun Crazy. If you're a film buff, though, it's an interesting relic. It does have some deliciously noiry one-liners: "We go together... like guns and ammunition go together," Bart tells Laurie. When was the last time your SO gave you a compliment like that?

Dr. Jacobi's misspent youth.
SCENE STEALER: A baby Russ Tamblyn as 14-year-old Bart. All his scenes are stupid and boring (the script's fault, not his), but he's credited as Rusty. Isn't that adorable?

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