I’m not sure how this one escaped me for so many years. Directed in 1949 by Joseph H. Lewis from a screenplay by MacKinlay Kantor (based on his 1940 Saturday Evening Post short story) and blacklisted Dalton Trumbo masquerading as Millard Kaufman, Gun Crazy reset the standard for film noir and paved the way for the attractive, sympathetic — albeit sometimes psychotic — antiheroes that showed up two decades later in movies like Bonnie and Clyde (whose real-life characters inspired Gun Crazy‘s lovin’ couple on the run) and The Getaway.
Cinematically, the film’s often expressionistic; its startling and (then) innovative use of extended “backseat driver” takes, shot from within the getaway car, and get the viewer caught up not only in the characters’ predicament but the sexual excitement their larceny generates. And Russell Harlan’s black-and-white cinematography is right up there with his work on Red River, The Thing from Another World, and Blackboard Jungle.
Not again until Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway would the screen see crooks as charismatic as Peggy Cummins and John Dall. Director Lewis told critic Danny Peary in 1981: “I told John, ‘Your cock’s never been so hard,’ and I told Peggy, ‘You’re a female dog in heat, and you want him. But don’t let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting.’ That’s exactly how I talked to them and I turned them loose. I didn’t have to give them more directions.”