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GUN CRAZY

Director: JOSEPH H. LEWIS

U.S.A. • 1949 • BLACK AND WHITE • 35MM • 87 MIN


ACCLAIMED BY THE FRENCH SURREALISTS AND A MAJOR INFLUENCE ON JEAN-LUC GODARD’S BREATHLESS, GUN CRAZY (RE-RELEASED IN A NEW 35MM PRINT) MORE THAN LIVES UP TO ITS REPUTATION AS ONE OF THE GREAT POST-WAR AMERICAN ‘B’ MOVIES.
Together with The Big Combo, this is the crowning achievement of low-budget specialist Joseph H. Lewis, a director one has no trouble identifying but little success defining. Its tale of star-crossed lovers on the run, of l’amour fou anarchically celebrated, is of recognisable pedigree, vintage film noir (You Only Live Once, They Live by Night). What distinguishes Gun Crazy from more conventional examples of the genre is Lewis’ constantly surprising and wildly inventive treatment of familiar material. Take, for example, the startling way in which he establishes the instant sexual attraction between the two young protagonists, Bart (John Dall) and Annie (Peggy Cummins), through their mutual passion for guns.
It matters little that a striking depiction of Bart’s childhood trauma (a cop looms into view after a young Bart steals a pistol from a shop window) amounts to no more than dime-store Freudianism, or that the provocative Annie, first glimpsed as a carnival sharpshooter dressed as a cowgirl, should later emerge as a standard issue femme fatale. Far more important than these red herrings is Lewis’ confident staging of the couple’s fatalistic journey towards destruction, with the hapless Bart unable to satisfy Annie’s appetite for violent excitement. (As the director once said, the couple’s love for each other is ‘much more fatal than their love for guns’.) Constantly turning budgetary limitations to advantage, Lewis’ greatest stylistic coup is a long, beautifully sustained single-take sequence in which a bank robbery is filmed with the camera placed in the back seat of the getaway car. — Peter Walsh.

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