TCM Pick for May: Film Noir
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!
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.
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.
“You’ll never make big money. You’re a two-bit guy. No guts. Nothing. I want action.” Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins)
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.