**Only very minor, preliminary spoilers here**
Gun Crazy begins with a boy getting caught for stealing a gun because he trips. The kid, Barton Tare, has a mysterious attraction to guns he can neither explain nor control. Others try to defend him, given that he has no desire to harm and isn’t a good thief. But he’s sent to reform school anyway, and after that and a bout in the army, the young man returns home and falls for a carnival sharpshooter, Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins). The two are both skilled in their expertise with weaponry and in their seduction of one another (clearly what brings them together), but their limbs just go haywire in all other contexts. When they turn to crime to satisfy Laurie’s lust for excitement and cash, the two can’t stop themselves from tripping, falling, and dropping the payroll.
The chief delight of this famous noir is Laurie’s ruthlessness; she’s one of the most fascinating femme fatales; the whole movie, you’re just waiting to see if her attraction to her now-husband, Bart (John Dall), will trump her self-interest.
Bart’s a little screwy (as when he brings a gun to school as a kid and refuses to give it to teacher or superintendent). But there’s an aw-shucks, Jimmy-Stewartist innocence to his love for his wife, making her single-mindedness and easy manipulation of him both sinister and completely believable. When the going gets tough, you know Bart will save Laurie. What you don’t know is whether Laurie will lose a nail to save him.
Their gun skills, of course, make them a dangerous pair when they start to rob. But in peak moments, the pair keep FALLING, making you wonder how many capers they could have actually pulled off. Call me cynical, but I think some grace might help in a getaway. This lack of finesse might dissatisfy viewers looking for slick criminals in action, but being anything but nimble myself, I found their lack of coordination endearing–an unexpected trait that made me worry for their chances, and realize that I’ve seen this trait in cinematic bank robbers too seldom. Far too many action stars have amazing reflexes without Jason Bourne’s training; more of us stumble in real life, as the Darwin Awards and local news so often prove. I know I’m not alone in loving the pratfallers, even in a noir. (Usually, only minor characters make such silly mistakes.)
Of course, there’s a lot more to recommend the movie: its stylishness, the costumes of Cummins (clearly an inspiration for Faye Dunaway’s in Bonnie and Clyde), the many artfully composed shots. But its lack of predictability (thanks to screenwriters, blacklisted Dalton Trumbo and MacKinlay Kantor) is what kept me watching and wondering. I expected some hairy getaways, but not the twists I got. I expected a dastardly female, but couldn’t predict her moves. And I certainly didn’t expect–but loved–all the great moments like this, Bart’s first tripping incident, which led to all the rest: