TCM Pick for May: Film Noir

As I always say, better late than really, really late. (Well, I don’t always say that. Actually, what I usually say is, “HURRY UP! We’re going to be LATE!” But I digress.) 

I’d intended to share my TCM film noir pick of the month long before now, but with the Seven Shadows series a couple of weeks back, combined with ongoing family preparations for dance recitals, graduations and such – well, let’s just say I’m a bit off schedule. Still, I was determined to get this post up today . . . especially since my pick airs in, as of this writing, less than eight hours! It’s Gun Crazy, starring Peggy Cummins and John Dahl – and it’s a good one!

The plot:

Married couple Annie Laurie Starr (Cummins) and Bart Tare (Dahl) share a fondness for firearms – but they take this affection to a whole ‘nother level when they embark on a crime spree.

Laurie works her magic while Bart polishes his guns. Ahem.

Favorite scene:

My favorite scene offers us a peek inside Laurie and Bart’s married life, after they’ve run out of cash and options – all except for one option, that is: Laurie’s proposition that they put their gun aptitude to good use (or bad use, as the case may be) by engaging in some not-so-legal activities. They’re living in a crummy, run-down hotel, and as the scene opens, Laurie emerges from the bathroom, complaining that there’s no more hot water. Bart – always easygoing and just happy to be polishing his prized gun collection – responds, “Well, it’s a roof, anyway.” Bart reminds his bride of a $40 a week job he can get, assuring her that they can “get by on that,” and Laurie replies, “Yeah, Maybe you can, but not me. It’s too slow, Bart. I wanna do a little living.” Bart offers to hock his collection, but that’s not enough for Laurie. “Bart, I want things. A lot of things. Big things. I don’t wanna be afraid of life or anything else. I want a guy with spirit and guts. A guy who can laugh at anything, who’ll do anything. A guy who can kick over the traces and win the world for me.” And what does Bart want? I don’t know what he does want, but he makes it clear what he doesn’t: “I don’t wanna look in that mirror and see nothing but a stickup man staring back at me.” As Bart prepares to leave, Laurie tells him to kiss her goodbye – because she won’t be there when he gets back. She reclines on the bed, parts her lips seductively, lowers her lids . . . and the next thing we know, Bart has his gun pointed at some hapless clerk at the Traveler’s Aid.

Favorite quote:

“You’ll never make big money. You’re a two-bit guy. No guts. Nothing. I want action.” Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins)

Other stuff:

  • Gun Crazy was based on a short story by MacKinlay Kantor that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1940. The film’s original title was Deadly is the Female.

    Peggy Cummins as the original Amber.

  • In 1946, following a nationwide search, one of Hollywood’s most coveted roles – the lead in 20th Century Fox’s Forever Amber – was given to pint-sized Peggy Cummins, who was born in North Wales and grew up just outside Dublin, Ireland. But after just a couple of months of shooting, Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck called a halt to filming – he later told Photoplay magazine: “We realized that Peggy could act the role, but could never look it. We had spent two years on research for the perfection of the production, but we also wanted perfection in casting. So we decided to start all over again.” Zanuck dismissed Cummins from the role, replacing her with Linda Darnell. Along with Cummins, Zanuck also dumped Vincent Price and Reginald Gardiner, as well as the director, John Stahl. (The film was lambasted by critics – years later, Cummins admitted, “When I saw it, of course, I just felt relieved.”)
  • Before the release of Gun Crazy, John Rosenfield of the Dallas Morning News expressed doubt over the wholesome Cummins’ ability to portray the corrupt Annie Laurie Starr. “We haven’t seen this movie with its siren, but we have to snicker anyhow. Can makeup and direction erase what appears to be an innate gentility?” Rosenfield queried. “Or will [Cummins] look like Margaret O’Brien wearing Cleopatra’s bloomers to a kiddy party?” (I’d say that Cummins more than proved that she was up to the task.)

    Part of the bank heist scene that was shot in one take.

  • The film features an acclaimed one-take shot of a bank robbery, during which Laurie and Bart drive to the bank, distract and then knock out a cop, and, finally, make their getaway. Director Joseph H. Lewis had the actors improvise their dialogue during the scene.
  • John Dall debuted on Broadway in the 1944 Moss Hart-directed hit Dear Ruth. The play ran for 680 performances. When the play was made into a movie in 1947, Dall’s role was played by William Holden. Dall was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his film debut in The Corn is Green. (He lost to James Dunn for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.)
  • Lewis directed several other noirs, including My Name is Julia Ross (1944), The Undercover Man (1949), and one of my personal favorites, The Big Combo (1955).
  • For more on Peggy Cummins as Annie Laurie Starr, check out this great post at The Sheila Variations blog, which appeared as part of last year’s For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon.

Don’t miss Gun Crazy, airing May 15th (that’s today!) at 8 p.m. (Eastern) on TCM! You only owe it to yourself.

~ by shadowsandsatin on May 15, 2012.

11 Responses to “TCM Pick for May: Film Noir”

  1. I love this movie. I can understand why someone might doubt the doll-like Cummins’s ability to play a cold-hearted villain, but from the first moment she steps on stage in the carnival she just completely owns the role.

    On a related note, I’m going to have trouble getting the image of “Margaret O’Brien wearing Cleopatra’s bloomers to a kiddy party” out of my head.

    • I love it, too, Adam. I can never picture Peggy Cummins as anything but Annie Laurie Starr, but I’ve seen pics from other roles and can certainly see why it was hard to envision her in this part. I certainly salute whoever picked her for the part — she was perfect. (Your comment about the bloomers made me laugh out loud, BTW!)

  2. For me, this film is one of the great “B” film noir masterpieces, and one of two, directed by Lewis. “The Big Combo” being the other which coincidently I will be posting a review of this coming Friday. “Gun Crazy” is minimalist filmmaking at its best. The bank robbery sequence done in one long uncut three minute take was the kind of visual filmmaking that Lewis excelled at.

    • I will have to visit your site and check out you Big Combo write-up, John — it’s another one of my favorites. I didn’t realize that he was the director of both The Big Combo and Gun Crazy! He’s pretty awesome.

  3. Great pick. Gun Crazy is a highly entertaining noir, with one unforgettable femme fatale (thpugh perhaps not in the strickest sense). How Annie uses sex to get Bart to do whatever she wants always gives me a good chuckle–so typical of the male species. Still, you have to feel bad for the guy in the end.

    • Thanks, Kim! One of my favorite scenes is the one where Laurie tells Bart she won’t be there when he gets back and just lays down and does her magic. And the next thing you know, he’s a stick-up man. Bart definitely does elicit your sympathy, it’s true. Poor thing — he was helpless against Laurie’s charms.

  4. Great choice. I love this movie and I appreciate it more at each viewing. I like how the beginning has an ominous, almost foreboding feel (it’s a rainy, dark night) when Bart as a boy gets arrested. The feel turns light (it’s daylight) as we see him in the scenes as a grown man before he meets Laurie. This is a nice touch with light that suggests that things can only end badly, as in all noir.

    • Thanks so much, Richard! I completely share your feeling of apprecating Gun Crazy more every time you see it. I feel the same way. Good point about the feeling in the beginning of the film — it certainly does foreshadow that nothing good will become of that lad!

  5. I absolutely love Gun Crazy. This movie is the kind of movie that I love to sit around and watch late at night. It’s right up there with Pickpocket On South Street, The Naked City and The Third Man. Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks for your comment, Paul. I totally share your fondness for Gun Crazy — it’s one of those movies I like more and more, every time I see it. Same thing with The Third Man, which I totally did not appreciate on the first viewing, but I think it’s brilliant now!

  6. [...] are obvious comparisons to be drawn with Joseph H. Lewis’s Gun Crazy (1950) and Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967). They Live by Night shares the [...]

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