[box cover]

Gun Crazy

Little Bart Tare has a problem: He loves guns, he loves shooting them, but after an early childhood incident he just can't bring himself to kill anything with them. Parentless and raised by his sister, Bart's got a touch of the delinquent in him — he winds up in front of a judge as a teenager for attempting to steal a handgun from a local hardware store — but this criminal behavior is born out of compulsion, and his longing for guns supersedes man's laws. This, of course, confounds society, which views gun fetishism minus the desire to kill as aberrant, so Bart is removed from the care of his sister and sent to reform school. He returns home years later after serving in the Army (his exploits, outside of teaching soldiers how to shoot, go unexplained, but what seems like a curious omission today was likely accepted without question back in 1949, as most WWII veterans weren't terribly boastful of the action they saw). But, as before, he can't quite find an acceptable station in American society. Enter Annie Laurie Starr, a stunning, blond-haired deadeye with a pistol who makes her living as a carnival sharpshooter. One look at her comely physique and, most importantly, the way she handles a gun, and Bart's a goner. After a bullet-whizzing flirtation, Bart catches on with her carnival, but his romance with Annie is impeded by their covetous manager, who wants Annie all to himself. With sexual desire and firearms bundled up into one incendiary package, Bart impetuously frees Annie from this Svengali-like relationship, and the pair hit the road. What follows falls disappointingly into a conventional film noir structure, as Annie becomes a possessive, kill crazy femme fatale. But for that first half-hour, Joseph H. Lewis's 1949 Gun Crazy (aka Deadly Is the Female) is a shockingly original post-WWII Hollywood "B movie" production that, decades later, found favor with cult film enthusiasts turned on by its subversive subtexts. The thought of a troubled youth who can't use his gun in an acceptable manner certainly raises the then-verboten specter of homosexuality, but Bart's doomed desire to keep his relationship with Annie clean and Christian — they get hitched the very night they flee the carnival — speaks to a more traditional ideal of the American dream. Though Bart is set up in the first act as a hopeless misfit, the film pretty clearly infers that he'd have a shot (pardon that pun!) at a legit lifestyle were it not for the licentious Annie, who tells her mug that she needs a guy who can "win the world for me." Suddenly, it's no longer about fitting in, but getting over, and Lewis, along with writers MacKinlay Kantor and Dalton Trumbo (writing under his front "Millard Kaufman"), mostly sticks to the well-trod morality play path as the pair blast their way into a cinematically familiar life of crime. There are unique touches — Bart's aversion to killing is contrasted with Annie's fervent wish to do just that as a means of keeping her man — and Lewis's track-happy direction is slick as can be, but the film is muzzled by the tenor of the times. Tamra Davis and Matthew Bright remade the film in 1992 with Drew Barrymore as Annie, but the result was a lot less tawdry than one might've expected. Also, Barrymore was no match for Peggy Cummins, the British actress whose doll-like beauty and clenched-teeth delivery powers the original with irresistible sexual heat (she'd turn up eight years later in another "B" classic, Tourneur's Night of the Demon). Meanwhile, John Dall, a fine actor not blessed with leading-man looks, makes Bart a sympathetic dupe. Russ Tamblyn appears early on as the young Bart. Warner presents Gun Crazy in a decent full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with solid Dolby Digital 1.0 audio. Extras include a commentary from writer Glenn Erickson. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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