Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Movie a Day: Gun Crazy (1950)

Until at least the end of October, I'm endeavoring to watch a movie every day. Typically, it will be a movie I've never seen before, although there might be the rare occasion that I rewatch something.

I’m quite fond of the lovers-on-the-run film. This is not an unpopular opinion to have, to say the least. For my part, I’ll take Pierrot le Fou or Badlands over anything, True Romance after that, and Bonnie and Clyde if I absolutely have to (that’s a topic for another day). Like a lot of people, I totally get the appeal of leaving it all behind and letting out on the road for a life of romance and escape. And like a lot of people, I get to the end of them and remind myself why I should never, ever do that. But I’m a romantic at heart, so I keep coming back to be heartbroken all over again.

Gun Crazy, supposedly the forerunner to Arthur Penn’s landmark film (based, if nothing else, on the stunning similarities in attire between the female protagonists), is exactly what you would ask for in a B movie from the 1950s that is considered a great work of cinema today. From the “social problem” angle to the broad acting to the hopeless melodrama to the absolute flawless, unbelievable camera work (there’s a one-shot bank robbery that’s one of the most exhilarating pieces of cinema I’ve seen all year – at home or at the theater). This is both the film’s strength and its weakness. While some have a proclivity towards these sorts of films, I find them alternately awesome and a total drag to watch.

Don’t get me wrong, when it’s lively, Gun Crazy is positively alive. But whereas Peggy Cummins (that’s her name, no “g”) gives the sort of broad (forgive the pun) performance that whips around the curve and comes back as truly exciting, John Dall, as the film’s protagonist, gives a performance as bland as his name. He comes alive early on in the film, but as soon as Bart (Dall) and Laurie (Cummins) let out together, something inside him just dies. Granted, this is a character-based decision, but bored and trapped has been done better, even in 1950.

The biggest problem the film has is not selling us on the Bart/Laurie romance. We get what he’s in it for – it’s hard finding people with similar interests – but she only wants him when he’s acting like a completely different person. I’m fine with her being turned on by this, but less so that the film follows it as though it goes deeper than that, and I didn’t buy it.

That said, there are few films I’ve seen from this era more infused with life and passion and spirit than this.

Tomorrow...something completely different.

No comments: