From the moment Peggy Cummins walks onscreen in Gun Crazy (1950), decked out in a cute cowgirl outfit and firing two pistols into the air, you know she’s going to control everything around her and make you forget everyone else in this movie. If only John Dall’s character knew that, he could’ve saved himself a lot of trouble. But like any red-blooded American boy, his character of Bart Tare is mesmerized by this smokin’ hot, pistol-packin’ mama. It didn’t help any that he himself has a lifelong gun fetish.
Cummins and Dall hook up, shoot at targets, and get married. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? They can spend the rest of their little lives at the firing range trying to outdo each other. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for one thing, Dall has no job prospects and Cummins craves things money can buy. Dall can’t bear to let her go, so before you can say “Stick ’em up”, the two of them rampage their way through a series of holdups and close calls. Cummins gets a little too trigger-happy and pretty soon, they’re wanted for murder, with cops looking for them seemingly in every state in the Union. They can’t drive ten miles without encountering a roadblock, and in no time at all, they’re reduced to riding freight cars and hiding out in freezing mountain cabins.
Dall is perfect in this film as the good boy gone astray, and he and Cummins generate considerable chemistry, but make no mistake, it’s Cummins’ show all the way. Her kittenish portrayal of Annie Laurie Starr is one of the best female performances in the history of film noir. Her Welsh accent gets in the way on occasion, but you don’t care, because you’ve totally bought into her powerful screen presence. The screenplay by blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (working through a front) sizzles and the two stars bring plenty of heat to beef it up even more. Director Joseph H Lewis reportedly gave them great leeway, including some scenes with improvised dialogue.
Subsequent films like Bonnie And Clyde and Natural Born Killers were made in much more lenient times, with no censors breathing down their necks, but they still seem derivative of Gun Crazy. And even though it was 1950, when all movies were ostensibly fit for the entire family, the eroticism of the gun itself was never explored more fully than it was in this low-budget cult classic.