Gun Crazy (1949): Joseph H. Lewis Masterpiece Film Noir

The definitive Joseph H. Lewis crime melodrama, “Gun Crazy” is “Bonnie and Clyde” retooled as a low budget but stylish and powerful tale for the disillusioned postwar generation.

The screenplay, based on a magazine article by Kantor MacKinlay in Saturday Evening Post, is credited to Kantor and Millard Kauffman, who served as a front to the then blacklisted writer, Dalton Trumbo.

John Dall (right after appearing in Hitchcock’s “Rope”) plays an emotionally disturbed World War II veteran, burdened with a lifelong fixation with guns.

He meets a kindred spirit in carnival sharpshooter Peggy Cummins, who is equally disturbed, but a lot smarter than him, which makes her more seductive and dangerous. Beyond their physical attraction to one another, both Dall and Cummins are obsessed with firearms.

They embark on a crime spree, with Cummins as the brains and Dall as the trigger man. As sociopathic a duo as you are likely to be found in a 1940s film, Dall and Cummins are also perversely fascinating.

As they dance their last dance before dying in a hail of police bullets, the audience is half hoping that somehow they’ll escape the Inevitable.

Some critics (not me) have complained that Dall is too effeminate and Cummins too butch.

The most visually striking scene in Gun Crazy is the bank robbery sequence, shot in “real time” from the back seat of Dall and Cummins’ getaway car.

Nominally a crime thriller about love on the run, Gun Crazy is equally (perhaps even more) effective as a portrait of delinquent American youth, all the more impressive because the film was made during the conservative post-WWII Turman era.

Refusing to psychologize his characters too much, Lewis suggests that neither John Dall nor Peggy Cumming could be explained away by slum background; they just like guns. As Bart explains to the judge: “Shooting’s what I’m good at. It’s what I want to do when I grow up. It makes me feel good inside.”

Initially slated for Monogram release, Gun Crazy enjoyed a wider exposure when its producers, the enterprising King Brothers, chose United Artists as the distributor. In the 1960s and 1970s, Gun Crazy became a cult movie, cherished by a new generation of critics who did not look down upon low-budget B-picture. Film historians use this film as a prime example for a sleeper.

You can spot Russ Tamblyn, billed as Rusty.


The film is aka “Deadly Is the Female.”

The movie was lossely remade in 1992 by Tamra Davis under the title of “Guncrazy,” starring Drew Barrymore.

Running time: 86 minutes.