Somebody over at the Enoch Pratt has a wickedly wonderful sense of humor: What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than with a movie about two crazy all-American young people who fall into a good, old-fashioned love affair over their mutual infatuation with each other and . . . firearms? Yes, director Joseph H. Lewis' 1950 noir Gun Crazy is a streamlined (86 minutes) foray into literalizing prudish America's most obvious taboo displacements: shooting for sex. It pits its two star-crossed lovers on a collision course where they can't deal with being together unless they're holding six-shooters in their hands. Because, you know, guns--as Bill Hicks used to quip--I'm getting a chubby just thinking about them.
Bart Tare (John Dall) is a pretty typical average American boy living in small town Cashville, Calif. His sister Ruby (Anabel Shaw) is in charge of raising him now that their parents aren't around, and for some reason the sensitive young man likes to shoot--not to kill, mind you. A traumatic episode involving a BB gun and a baby chick when he was younger swore him off killing. He just feels better about himself when he's shooting. But when he gets in trouble for having a firearm at school and he breaks into a hardware store to replace his confiscated security weapon, he's sent off to reform school and a stint in the army.
He comes home all grown up, just as withdrawn as he ever was, but perks up when his buddies Dave (Nedrick Young), now the town newspaper man, and Clyde (Harry Lewis), now a police deputy, take him to a traveling carnival where Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) is the star attraction. She's the sideshow's sharp-shooter, who comes out and eyes Bart the way a hungry snake looks at a mouse. She's as much a dead-eye aim as Bart and, for once, actual sparks fly in a 1950s romance as Bart and Laurie practically paw each other--only with bullets instead of verbal zingers.
Noir conventions tell you where this is going--she's the femme who likes action, and together they start a Bonnie and Clyde life on the constant lam--but those familiar setups don't tell you just how over the top the movie goes. Screenwriters MacKinlay Kantor's and Dalton Trumbo's script is so blunt-object solid it could crack a skull, and Cummins and Dall chew through their firecracker dialogue and nigh nonstop stickups with a libidinous zeal. Bonus style points go to cinematographer Russell Harlan, who single-take shoots an entire bank job from a camera mounted in the backseat of Bart and Laurie's getaway car. It ends the only way it can but, oh, how it gets there. Women, can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em--especially when they shoot back.