Famous Couples of Noir: Annie and Bart in Gun Crazy (1950)

Bang, bang -- I love you.

Bang, bang — I love you.

Gun Crazy (1950) depicts a kind of noirish Bonnie and Clyde story. For me, the heart of this feature is the relationship between Bart Tare and Annie Laurie Starr – here’s a peek inside the connection between this dysfunctional duo.

It was love – or something – at first sight.

Gun Crazy’s sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) makes her entrance on a carnival sideshow stage with guns blazing. Seated in the audience, with his two best pals, is Bart Tare (John Dall), newly returned from a stint in the army. As Bart watches, he literally leans forward in his seat, his face plastered with an ear-to-ear grin and his eyes wide and shining. And Laurie? Among the tent full of thrill-seekers, she zeroes in on Bart, points her gun straight at him – and fires.

If that ain’t love, I don’t know what is.

Minutes later, Bart and Laurie are engaged in a courtship dance that involves a gun-shooting competition – when Bart first joins her on stage, they look each other up and down, both sporting mutually appreciative smirks. And when Bart bests Laurie in the shoot-off, her appreciation increases – appreciably. She arranges for him to sign on with the carnival, and the two begin dating, despite the fact that Bart is warned away by a clown (yes, a clown) who tells him: “She ain’t the type that makes a happy home . . . Some guys are born smart about women and some guys are born dumb. You were born dumb.”

But Bart is hooked. He doesn’t heed the words of the wise clown, nor does he back off when his smarmy, liquor-swilling boss, Packy (Berry Kroeger) tells him, point blank, that he “has a claim” on Laurie. And in contrast with his easygoing, amiable personality, Bart doesn’t hesitate to fire a shot in Packy’s general direction when he catches Packy making the moves on Laurie. It’s a costly shot, granted, as it winds up getting them both axed from the carnival, but Bart gets the girl, so it’s worth it. (Isn’t it?) And soon after they leave the carnival behind them, Bart and Laurie become man and wife, taking their first joyous step on a journey toward happily ever after. (Right?)

Not so fast.

Does that burger look delish, or am I just hungry?

Does that burger look delish, or am I just hungry?

Despite the instantaneous, irrefutable attraction between Bart and Laurie, and notwithstanding that they, according to Bart himself, went together like “guns and ammunition,” theirs was not exactly a match made in heaven. Oh, they had a wonderful time in the beginning – we see them taking a stroll hand in hand, picking out wedding rings, sitting blissfully by a waterfall, dancing at a swanky nightclub, living it up in Vegas. But the good times don’t last. Before long they’re hocking their rings at a pawn shop and turning down onions on a couple of (really tasty looking!) burgers at a roadside dive because they can’t afford the extra nickel. And it’s about this time that we learn that all is not sweetness and light with these two.

But why?

Because, as it turns out, aside from their mutual affinity for firearms, Bart and Laurie couldn’t be more different. Let’s take a closer look.

  • Laurie provides us with a pretty clear key to her personality early in the film, when she gives Packy the brush-off, telling him: “You’ll never make big money. You’re a two-bit guy. No guts. Nothing. I want action.” And later, before she and Bart enter the offices of the justice of the peace, Laurie offers up this revelation: “I’ve never been much good, at least up to now I haven’t. You aren’t getting any bargain. But I’ve got a funny feeling that I want to be good. I don’t know, maybe I can’t. But I’m gonna try. I’ll try hard, Bart. I’ll try.”
  • Money doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot to Bart. As they leave the carnival after being fired, Laurie half-jokes that Bart should have waited until payday to shoot at Packy. And Bart blithely responds, “I’ve got money. We’ll get along all right.” I don’t know where he got his money from – aside from his short stint at the carnival – or how much he has saved, but it couldn’t be too much. Still, he doesn’t seem concerned. It simply doesn’t matter.
  • When Laurie – not for the first time, apparently – floats her idea that they turn to robbery for some easy cash, Bart’s response is that it’s “too dangerous” and “somebody might get hurt.” And Laurie’s point of view? “How can anybody get hurt if we don’t hurt them?”

    There's no place like home. (Blecch.)

    There’s no place like home. (Blecch.)

  • We see Laurie and Bart living in a crummy, run-down hotel. Laurie grouses that there’s no more hot water. Bart rejoins, “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 even tells her that he’ll hock his prized gun 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.

And that’s the relationship of Bart and Laurie, in a nutshell. Despite Bart’s moral core, he seems powerless to fight Laurie’s forceful personality and his own undeniable attraction for her. And as for Laurie, as much as she can love anyone, she appears to love Bart – but even more than her feeling for her husband, she loves the prospect of the money she can have. And the thrill of doing whatever she has to do to get it. Or, as she herself told Bart, “I’ve been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I’m gonna start kicking back.”

Annie kicking back.

Annie kicking back.

If you’ve never seen this film, or you’ve got a hankering to give it a much-deserved re-watch, you’ll soon get your chance – it’s airing on Turner Classic Movies on March 23rd.  Make an appointment to spend 86 minutes in the company of these gun-crazy kids, Bart Tare and Annie Laurie Starr.

You know why, don’t you? You only owe it to yourself.

This is a revised version of a post that appeared on the 1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die website, for the Seven Shadows blog event  in May 2012.

~ by shadowsandsatin on March 23, 2013.

12 Responses to “Famous Couples of Noir: Annie and Bart in Gun Crazy (1950)”

  1. Thanks for the post. I’ve never seen this movie. I’m looking forward to watching it tonight.

  2. Great post on one of my favorite movies!

  3. A great review of a terrific movie! I’m a big John Dall fan and he is sooo good here. It’s too bad this film isn’t more well-known, and that’s why I’m happy to see your review.

  4. Great stuff! Watched this “with you” and the gang at TCMparty last night. Hadn’t seen it in eons and was surprised to see how many scenes remind me of other films. But most of all I was impressed by how good Peggy Cummins is in it. I tweeted she is a (sort of) better version of Veronica Lake to me. (Not a Lake fan although I continue to try).

    Fun read!

    Aurora

    • Thanks, Aurora — I love watching my old favorites with the TCM Party gang! And I really like Peggy Cummins in this — she is one of my favorite femmes. She totally rocked this role. BTW, have you seen Veronica Lake in The Glass Key or The Blue Dahlia?

      • You know I have The Glass Key DVRd and have yet to see it. I’m really trying to give her a chance – so many people whose film tastes and knowledge I admire love her so…

        I’ll let you know when I see that. I saw The Blue Dahlia eons ago so must revisit that one soon as well.

        Aurora

  5. Karen and company, when I read a book or watch a movie about lovers on the lam and the like, I usually playfully dub them “those crazy kids,” but in GUN CRAZY, they really ARE crazy kids! OK, to be fair, John Dall’s Bart is pretty much a fool for love who also happens to have excellent aim and gives love a shot (sorry, couldn’t resist!). I’d first seen John Dall in SPARTACUS and in Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE, but I’, I was wowed by the chemistry between Dall and the dynamic Peggy Cummins, and the cinematography was top-notch! Hooray for TCM for bringing GUN CRAZY for The Essentials, and BRAVA to you for your superb post!

  6. […] I even have to say that Gun Crazy is yet another favorite? Peggy Cummins and John Dahl star as two nutty kids whose fondness for each other is superseded only by their affinity for firearms. Seriously, if you […]

  7. […] If you have any affinity for crime stories or film noirs, you owe it to yourself to see Gun Crazy. Also, for further reading, please check out this great piece on Gun Crazy by Karen at Shadows and Satin: Famous Couples of Noir: Annie and Bart in Gun Crazy (1950). […]

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