In a recent article Manohla Dargis wrote, "I have a particular weakness for the kinds of dangerous, sometimes unhinged femmes fatales in film noirs like 'Gun Crazy' and 'Out of the Past.'" That put both movies on my watch list.
Gun Crazy certainly meets Otto Penzler's definition of noir, as well as my speculation that noir is related to the twentieth-century tendency to see people as defined by their circumstances.
Bart Tare (John Dall) is fascinated by guns, but a childhood trauma gives him a horror of killing. Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), a sharp-shooter, is the star attraction at a carnival, but the boss says she belongs to him.
They bond over their expertise with firearms, and they set out to liberate her by running free and robbing banks (echoes of Bonnie and Clyde). They are doomed because she is willing to kill, but he cannot stand it.
The movie starts slow with scenes of Bart as a boy, a teenager, and a young man. But once he meets Annie at the carnival, it is a sharp, suspenseful thrill ride.
Excellent performances by the two stars made me wonder why they weren't household names like, for instance, James Stewart and Barbara Stanwyck.
John Dall came off two Broadway hits to win an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in The Corn is Green. He played the lead in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, but it flopped. He played the lead in Gun Crazy and it flopped. After that, he worked mostly in television at a time when TV was less prestigious and less lucrative than movies.
Peggy Cummins similarly came close to stardom. She had the title role in Forever Amber, but, when the production was halted for re-writing the script, she was replaced. She went on to have a steady career in British films, but no career in Hollywood.
Life ain't fair, on-screen or off.