(Deadly is the Female)
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Production: King Brothers/Universal-International/Pioneer Pictures Corporation; black and white, 35mm; running time: 87 minutes. Released as Deadly is the Female , 26 January 1950; re-released as Gun Crazy , 24 August 1950.
Producers: Frank King and Maurice King; screenplay: MacKinlay Kantor and Dalton Trumbo (fronted by Millard Kaufman), from a Saturday Evening Post story by MacKinlay Kantor; photography: Russell Harlan; editor: Harry W. Gerstad; original music: Victor Young; sound: Tom Lambert.
Peggy Cummins (
Annie Laurie Starr
); John Dall (
); Berry Kroeger (
); Morris Carnovsky (
); Annabel Shaw (
); Harry Lewis (
); Nedrick Young (
); Trevor Bardette (
); Mickey Little (
, age 7); Russ Tamblyn (credited as Rusty Tamblyn) (
, age 14); Paul Frison (
, age 14); Dave Bair (
, age 14).
Shadoian, Jack, Dreams and Deadends: The American Gangster/ Crime Film , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1977.
Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, Film Noir , New York, 1979.
Tuska, John, Dark Cinema: American Film Noir in Perspective , Westport, Connecticut, 1984.
Kitses, Jim, Gun Crazy , London, 1996.
Anderson, Lindsay, " Gun Crazy ," in Sequence (London), Autumn 1950.
Mysel, Myron, "Joseph H. Lewis: Tourist in the Asylum," in Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn, editors, Kings of the B's: Working Within the Hollywood System , New York, 1975.
Borde, Raymond, and Etienne Chaumeton, "A Propos du Film Noir Americain," in Positif (Paris), 1976.
Ruhmann, Lony, Steven Schwartz, and Rob Conway, " Gun Crazy , 'The accomplishment of many, many minds': An Interview with Joseph H. Lewis," in The Velvet Light Trap , (Austin, Texas), Summer 1983.
Sattin, R. "Joseph H. Lewis: Assessing an (Occasionally) Brilliant Career," in American Classic Screen , November/December 1983.
* * *
One of the highlights in the career of director Joseph H. Lewis, Gun Crazy is a minor classic, widely regarded as one of the best of the "B" movies. Shot on a low budget as an independent film, it benefits from stylish photography by former stuntman Russell Harlan, who is probably best known as Howard Hawks's cinematographer on Red River. Lewis is known for his distinctive style as a director, and Gun Crazy is a showcase for his repertoire of odd camera angles, elaborate scene compositions, and the variation of long and short takes for dramatic effect. In one famous scene, a bank robbery is filmed in one take from the rear seat of the getaway car, a technique that seems to involve the viewer in the heist as it takes place.
As with many gangster and crime films, Gun Crazy is an adaptation of a short story, in this case written by novelist MacKinlay Kantor for the Saturday Evening Post. Based on the myths surrounding Bonnie and Clyde, it tells the tale of a doomed love affair between Bart and Laurie, two carnival sharpshooters who embark on a crime spree that ends in murder. Yet the ambition of the film reaches beyond its banal storyline. Bart and Laurie each have their own complex psychological reasons for acting as they do. Bart is a petty criminal lured into violence through his obsessive love for Laurie, while Laurie is a manipulative femme fatale of the most dangerous kind. Yet they seem to carry within themselves and their relationship a desire for self-destruction. In this respect, Gun Crazy is a fine example of how film noirs differ from the crime and gangster movies that preceded them. As John Tuska explains, "[t]he difference between Gun Crazy and the gangster film cycle in the early 'Thirties is that the protagonists, instead of behaving in a fashion which proves self-destructive, behave according to self-destructive impulses."
While the film itself portrays Bart and Laurie's secret life on the run, there is also an element of subterfuge in its making. Millard Kaufman, who was credited as co-writer of the film with MacKinlay Kantor, was actually "fronting" for a blacklisted writer, Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo, one of the "Hollywood Ten" filmmakers who went to prison for refusing to testify at the McCarthy hearings, wrote under various different names and was "fronted" by at least one other writer besides Kaufman. He was unable to collect an Academy Award for his work on Irving Rapper's The Brave One in 1956 because the screenplay had been penned by someone called "Robert Rich". He did not receive official credit for his contribution to Gun Crazy from the Writer's Guild until 1992.
The influence of Gun Crazy has spread much further than its B-movie origins might have suggested. Arthur Penn's celebrated Bonnie and Clyde (1967) has obvious similarities in plot, though a somewhat lighter tone, while Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994) repeats the story of a young couple obsessed with violence and killing and on the run from the law. Gun Crazy is sometimes named as one of the films that began Hollywood's postwar obsession with the connection between sex and violence, an obsession Stone's film attempts to satirize.
Joseph H. Lewis went on to make films such as The Big Combo (1955) and 7th Cavalry (1956), but never again achieved the psychological insight or the overall quality of Gun Crazy. The film was remade unsuccessfully as Guncrazy in 1992 with Drew Barrymore and James LeGros in the lead roles.