Warner Archive once again provides an interesting film history lesson with the May 8, 2018 Blu-ray release of the 1950 noir "Gun Crazy." This entertaining morality tale on gun violence is a prime example of pulp fiction sociology tales, such as "Blackboard Jungle," from early Baby Boomer days,
The central victim of society this time is problem child Bart Tare (John Dall). The awesome opening scenes have a crazed teen Tare (Russ Tamblyn of "West Side Story" and the reviewed "Son of a Gunfghter") being drenched in the rain when his eyes glaze over on seeing a revolver in a hardware store window. This leads to one of the clumsiest reel-life burglary attempts ever.
The action then shifts to one of the most inadvertently amusing judicial proceedings in film history. A kindly judge is responding to the need to talk about Bart by conducting a trial in which there apparently is no prosecutor, no defense attorney, and no guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of this orphan who is living with roughly 18 year-old engaged sister Ruby.
It is equally amusing that the judge allows Ruby, buddies of Tare, and his kindly teacher to testify without any prior notice and without taking any form of oath. The gist of all their statements is that Bart is obsessed with guns but that a traumatic experience picking off a chick eliminates any possibility of his being a threat to himself or others.
Bittersweet humor comes via the testimony of the teacher, She shares the story of entering the classroom to find the students surrounding Tare because of the revolver that he brought for show-and-tell. Her confrontation of him is calm, and the incident concludes without any mayhem or bloodshed. This illustrates one way that things have deteriorated in the 68 years since the debut of "Crazy," which looks and sounds brand-new in Blu-ray.
Particularly blatant sociology enters the picture on the judge carefully explaining to Bart that a reform school sentence is intend to be for his own good, rather than to punish him. The unspoken aspect of this is that the rationale for the decision is completely irrelevant regarding the wisdom of quiet and quirky Bart accepting the inevitable by showing up at juvie with a Catholic school skirt and a large supply of lipstick and other makeup. There is no doubt that he will end up in the bottom bunk.
The action quickly moves forward 10 years to a happy and well-adjusted Tare testing the theory that you cannot go home again. The aforementioned chums, who respectively are a respected newspaper journalist and the new sheriff in town, welcome him with open arms.
The friends inviting Tare to a carnival turns out to be as ill-advised as unwittingly handing an alcoholic a Jager Bomb. This outing leads to attending a sharpshooting demonstration by modern-day Annie Oakley Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins). The primary problem is that this femme fatale is more of a natural-born killer than a Wrangler Jane.
A series of seemingly fortunate incidents leads to Tare and Starr hitting the road and his quickly agreeing that he should make an honest woman of her. The problem is that (akin to the presumed hierarchy while Tare is a guest of the state) Starr clearly wears the pants in the family.
This dominance extends to Starr coercing Tare into a Bonnie and Clyde style travelling crime spree. Although she keeps up that end of the bargain, Starr soon breaks the vow to not kill anyone in the line of booty. One such death involving Starr literally wearing pants has strong symbolic value.
The Bonnie and Clyde vibe extends to our couple hiding out with family; the symbolism here relates to clearly showing that Tare cannot be pulled back from the darkside and to the extent to which Starr is ruthless.
Of course, this leads to a dramatic chase and subsequent shootout. The morality tale aspect continues with Tare and Starr facing the inevitable fate of all those who live by the gun,. They ether end up behind bars or six-feet under.
The Blu-ray special features include the documentary "Film-Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light" and commentary by noir expert Glenn Erickson.
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