Deadly Is the Female (a.k.a. Gun Crazy), Joseph H. Lewis (1949)

Meat and potatoes low-budget noir, with just barely enough going on visually and pyschologically to keep you from turning it off and just re-watching one or another, or even another, more perfect example of the lovers-on-the-run genre. The movie starts well, introducing the two main characters as kids who’ve been pathologically obsessed with guns all their lives, but once the duo hooks up and takes to the road, mostly because she ostensibly craves thrills, the metaphorical and thematic possibilities of the gun crazy angle are pretty much dropped, leaving us with a straight-ahead on-the-lam movie: cheesy disguises, replacement cars stolen from traveling salesmen, tense close calls at police checkpoints, and finally the classic splash through the swamp to throw off the bloodhounds. I guess there’s some kind of message in here about good gun obsession vs. bad gun obsession, though: he wants to work for Remington, she wants to be a bank robber, and we’re meant to understand that his obsession is OK and hers is not. Well, duh.

There are some fun parts. One hugely ho-hum heist sequence is redeemed–nay, transformed!–by the fact that it’s shot in an Armour slaughterhouse; terrific chase sequence with our gun crazy kids bobbing and weaving between the giant swinging carcasses. And I also like it when the lovers, down on their luck, decide against paying the extra five cents for onions on their hamburgers at a diner, and then eat the burgers with scary voracity. (By the way, what ever became of the mid-century tradition of a cup of coffee with your hamburger?)

One more thing: a movie like this depends utterly on the chemistry between the leads, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a less sexual couple on screen. John Dall and Peggy Cummins seem more like brother and sister than anything. Dall and Farley Granger made a much more convincing couple. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

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