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June 17, 2005

Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy
Joseph H. Lewis - 1949
DVD

I once came across a quote from Nelson Mandela where he said that what helped him during the time he was imprisoned was remembering favorite movies. I have wondered if he has ever had the opportunity to see any of these films again. The reason I ask is because my own experience is that sometimes the memory of a movie can be better than seeing the film again.

I first saw Gun Crazy over thirty years ago in New York City. The story is about two young people who love guns and each other. The guy is a former soldier, an expert shot unable to shoot living beings, whether hunting or in self defense. The woman is a carnival trick shooter who has no trouble shooting to kill. Modeled somewhat after the real Bonnie and Clyde, the film is a chronicle of the pair's decent into crime. The quick and easy robberries are replaced by more challenging heists that eventually undo the duo. The film ends with the two out of bullets and luck.

Since I had seen the film before, I decided to watch it with the commentary on. This is by someone named Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant. Some of the information was interesting. The best was knowing more about the legendary single take done of a bank robbery. The back of a car was set up to carry a 35mm movie camera, plus sound equipment including several microphones. The robbery scene is one continous take with stars Peggy Cummins and John Dall. The car is parked in front of a bank, Dall walks out of the car and into the bank, the camera holds on the bank until we see Dall run out and into the car. The camera continues to run so that we continue to watch the action as if the audience was in the back seat, while Cummins and Dall drive out of town. Not only does this single take take several minutes, but according to director Lewis, was shot in the first take.

When I first saw this film theatrically, it was because of the acclaim given this film by Andrew Sarris in his book, The American Cinema. Sarris's view was that Gun Crazy was "subtler and more moving" than Bonnie and Clyde. What I remember was the feeling of euphoria after seeing this film. I knew that it was shot on a relatively small budget with Lewis making the most of his resources. The one thing I remembered was that the sexuality suggested at in Gun Crazy was, and still is, more evocative than whatever is hinted at between Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.

And yet... seeing the film again was not quite as good as how I remembered it. Maybe I shouldn't have bothered with the commentary, or at least at the first pass after more than thirty years. I know that I only have a handful of films I have watched several times since I bought them on tape or disc. I have to wonder if the act of buying movies is in a sense a way for people to totally possess and own dreams and memories.

Posted by peter at June 17, 2005 04:33 PM