By Jeffrey M. Anderson
One of the greatest of all films, this B-movie classic has it all. In telling his story of two lovers on the run, director Joseph H. Lewis uses a startling immediacy not found in any other films at the time. It's the kind of energy that didn't crop up again until a decade later in the French New Wave films.
John Dall and Peggy Cummins star as a pair of star-crossed lovers who both passionately love guns. Bart (Dall) doesn't have it in him to kill but Laurie (Cummins) doesn't mind a bit. They marry and embark on a life of crime that escalates until there's no place left to run.
The film begins with a silly prologue explaining Bart's character as a youth (played by Russ Tamblyn) -- he was the best shot in town, but he couldn't kill another living thing. When the carnival comes to blows into his berg, he meets gorgeous sharpshooter Laurie and they hit it off immediately. Laurie is dressed very seductively in a cowgirl suit and poses for maximum effect. When she first sees Bart she fires directly into the camera, at him and at us.
Little does he know that she is a traditional femme fatale with enough raw sex appeal to coax him straight into hell. Lewis drags both heroes through the ringer, bringing his camera right up to the action and dropping them off in a boggy swamp for the film's powerful climax.
But of course, the film is remembered and celebrated for its brilliant centerpiece, a bank robbery pulled off in one camera shot, a lengthy single take planted in the back seat of the getaway car. The robbers drive up, Laurie distracts a cop while Bart does his business inside. They drive away and Bart asks Laurie to check and see if they're being followed. She turns around and looks right into the camera with eyes full of heat and passion.
Dall had appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope," as one of two ambiguously gay murderers based on Leopold and Loeb. He has a touching sensitivity that works perfectly as Bart. Cummins never broke out of B-pictures, but she was a hugely potent force, sexy and powerful, with piercing eyes. She made only one other standout film eight years later, Jacques Tourneur's "Night of the Demon."
"Gun Crazy" was released on VHS years ago but has been out of print for some time. Warner Home Video has finally released it on DVD, accompanied by a commentary track by film noir expert Glenn Erickson (author of the DVD Savant colum on DVDtalk.com). It also includes optional English, Spanish and French subtitles.
**** out of ****
(87m | NR)