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Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy (1950) is a film noir feature film starring Peggy Cummins and John Dall in a story about the crime-spree of a gun-toting husband and wife. The film was directed by Joseph H. Lewis, and produced by Frank King and Maurice King. The screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and MacKinlay Kantor was based upon a short story by Kantor published in 1940 in The Saturday Evening Post. Gun Crazy was selected for the National Film Registry, and is also known as Deadly Is the Female.

Cast and characters

Plot

Bart Tare (John Dall) is a ex-Army man who has a lifelong fixation with guns--they make him feel good inside. The drama opens with Tare, age 14, being grilled by a judge because he had been arrested for breaking and entering and stealing a gun. In flashbacks his friends say that while its true that Tare loves guns, he would never kill anything. They tell the judge the number of times he's refused to kill animals. Nevertheless the judge sends him to reform school.

The next time we see Tare he's grown up back in town. He's also left military service behind. He reunites with his childhood friends and they decide to go to a carnival.

There he meets a kindred spirit in sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) and goes to work at the carnival. They are attracted to one another and after upsetting the carnival owner who lusts after Starr, they both get fired. Soon, on Starr's behest, they embark on a crime spree, with Starr as the brains and Tare as the trigger man. They are tracked by police to a swamp where they both die.

Production

The screenplay was credited to Kantor and Millard Kaufman; however, Kaufman was a front for Hollywood Ten outcast Dalton Trumbo, who considerably reworked the story into a doomed love affair.

The picture was originally slated for Monogram release, yet the producers, the King Brothers Productions, chose United Artists as the distributor. As such, Gun Crazy enjoyed wider exposure.

In an interview with Danny Peary, director Joseph H. Lewis revealed his instructions to actors John Dall and Peggy Cummins:

I told John, "Your cock's never been so hard," and I told Peggy, "You're a female dog in heat, and you want him. But don't let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting." That's exactly how I talked to them and I turned them loose. I didn't have to give them more directions.

The bank heist sequence was shot entirely in one long take in Montrose, California, with no one besides the principal actors and people inside the bank alerted to the operation. This one-take shot included the sequence of driving into town to the bank, distracting and then knocking out a patrolman, and making the get-away. This was done by simulating the interior of a sedan with a stretch Cadillac with room enough to mount the camera and a jockey's saddle for the cameraman on a greased two-by-twelve board in the back. Lewis kept it fresh by having the actors improvise their dialogue.

Reception

Eric Henderson, film critic for Slant Magazine, wrote, "Lewis, through sheer force of will, turns the script's easy ways out ("I told you I'm a bad girl, didn't I?") into the essence of blunt, adolescent sexual flowering. Wild, wam-bam pacing (early heavy petting) eventually matures into the film's most memorable sequence: a one-take robbery sequence taken from the back seat of the getaway car, a stunning tour de force that's Lewis's cinematographic slow f***.

Critic and author Eddie Muller wrote, "Joseph H. Lewis's direction is propulsive, possessed of a confident, vigorous simplicity that all the frantic editing and visual pyrotechnics of the filmmaking progeny never quite surpassed.

Sam Adams, critic for the Philadelphia City Paper, wrote, "The codes of the time prevented Lewis from being explicit about the extent to which their fast-blooming romance is fueled by their mutual love of weaponry (Arthur Penn would rip off the covers in Bonnie and Clyde, which owes Gun Crazy a substantial debt), but when Cummins' six-gun dangles provocatively as she gasses up their jalopy, it's clear what really fills their collective tank.

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on twelve reviews.

Honors

In 1998, Gun Crazy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

References

External links

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