5 Things About Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy

This is my entry in the For the Love of Film (Noir) blogathon, hosted by Marilyn Ferdinand and The Self-Styled Siren. The blogathon is also a fundraiser, where readers and writers and anyone can donate to the Film Noir Foundation, an organization which helps restore classic films. There is a PayPal account associated with the Blogathon through which you can donate: Click here to donate. Every little bit helps!

Joseph Lewis’ brilliant, erotic, and hugely influential Gun Crazy was originally called Deadly Is the Female (which could be a secondary title to almost every film noir ever made). Peggy Cummins, as Annie Laurie Starr, is definitely deadly. She’s a sharp-shooter, and she makes her living doing shooting shows with a traveling circus, daring good shots in the audience to come up and take her on. Although she is obviously a deadly shot, the “female” isn’t the deadly thing in this movie. What is deadly is the pairing of the two: She picks Barton (John Dall) out of a crowd at one of her shows, and they engage in a shooting competition which is blatantly sexual, and a giant hook for the both of them. They cleave to one another almost immediately. It’s a dare. What is love to these two is not tenderness or communication, but how close they both can come to blowing the other one’s brains out.

Annie Laurie would never have been an upright citizen, she’s too ruthless, but she may have gone on in an unremarkable way, breaking men’s hearts, giving them the shaft, nothing too out of the ordinary, if she hadn’t met Barton. It is their chemistry that is deadly. Together, they become a terrifying combination of elements, psychosexual, manipulative, and 100% codependent. History is full of murderous duos, those who perhaps would never go off the rails alone but who require that “other” to push them over the edge. There was Leopold and Loeb. There were the Papin sisters, in France, maids who murdered their employer. There was Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, whose murder of one of the girls’ mothers inspired Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. Then, of course, there was Bonnie and Clyde, a movie that references Gun Crazy at almost every turn (even down to Faye Dunaway’s beret, which makes her look like a svelte revolutionary). In fiction, we have the deadly duos as well. Lady Macbeth hissing to her husband,

We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.

In other words, “Don’t be such a pussy.” There are certain types of men who are not susceptible to such insults (try saying something like that to John Wayne, he’d laugh in your face), and then there are others who are weak, there is a faultline in their characters making them vulnerable, suggestible. Macbeth required his wife to turn him into the murdering psychopath that he became. Two elements combine. It is an alchemical reaction, bringing forth monsters.

And so I believe that Gun Crazy is the perfect title for this dark and sexy noir: it’s an attention-getting title, but far more accurate than Deadly Is the Female, which puts most of the blame on the girl. She is definitely the drive, but without his passive, helpless, and sexually-charged submission she would be just another petty thief, screwing men out of their wallets and their hearts. Nothing that would make the front pages.

Through her relationship with Barton, Annie Laurie Starr hits the big time.

Peggy Cummins makes an indelible impression as Annie Laurie. It is one of my favorite performances of all time. The female in film noir is often the “other”, the mysterious force-of-nature that strolls into a man’s life and knocks over all his chess pieces. She is often ruthless. Her blood pressure doesn’t rise like other humans: she remains calm and in control. Her surface may be hot and compelling (Barbara Stanwyck’s blonde bangs and anklet in Double Indemnity), but her heart remains uninvolved, as she calculates her way towards getting what she wants. Annie Laurie has those elements, but she adds to it a hot-blooded subtext. While she does use Barton in order to free herself from the circus, you also get the sense that she needs him, she can’t breathe without him. It makes for a truly disturbing picture, because you get caught up in their weird violent little belljar, and you start to root for the both of them, even though they are wreaking havoc. It is their bond that cannot be denied.

Annie Laurie knows how to play Barton. She’s got him by the balls, so to speak, and here, in Gun Crazy, the sexual nature of such deadly duos is made explicit. I get the feeling that Barton has never been laid before, at least not how she does it. She knows that that’s one of the hooks for him, so she uses it. However, I get the sense that that’s a hook for HER as well. This is what Peggy Cummins brings to the noir table, it is something unique.

These two drive each other crazy.

Here are 5 things about Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy, a performance for the ages.

1. There’s something in the way she eats.

Movie actresses didn’t eat like that back then, and it is rare to see them eat like that now. Movie actresses delicately twirl their fork in a plate of linguine, and take tiny neat bites. Eating is awkward in films, and I know some directors who try to avoid showing it at all, just to avoid the hassle. Does Julia Roberts have parsley in her teeth? Is there a bit of tomato sauce on the side of Charlize Theron’s face? Forget it, let’s just cut the scene. I remember the first time I saw Gun Crazy, and I was in love with it from the opening shot, but it was at the moment in the diner when I saw her dig into that hamburger that I felt that tell-tale prickly-goosebumpy feeling on the back of my neck. That goosebumpy feeling is what happens when I realize I am in the presence of something real. Peggy Cummins attacks that hamburger, voraciously, you can even hear her breathing through her nose as she eats. It’s actually kind of gross, and is just right for the character. Actresses often avoid looking unattractive, and it’s easy to see why. They are judged so harshly on their appearances already. Why open themselves up to criticism? Or if they play “unattractive”, they keep one foot back through the Glamour Door, so that we in the audience know that “that is not really them”. Peggy Cummins has none of those worries. She digs her front teeth into that burger, oblivious to the world, chewing hard but not waiting to swallow before going back in for another giant bite. It is a metaphor for the character, obviously, but not the way she plays it. She plays it on the level: “Dammit, I’m effing STARVING.”

2. There’s something in the way she runs.

There are a couple of scenes where the duo has to make a run for it. They rob the payroll office at a giant meat-packing factory and have to flee with the loot. Then, after their crime spree across the country, they realize, while dancing at an arcade in Santa Monica, that they have to run for it. Now. We see the two of them barreling down a sidewalk together. She drops her purse. They hustle back for it. Annie Laurie and Barton have been in this thing together from the beginning. They huddle over floor plans, smoke cigarettes, and argue over tactics. They hold each other close, breathing in one another’s breath. And here, they run for their lives. Often, in movies, when a male and female run from something together, the male maintains his alpha-status, while running, and holds the hand of the female (as though she can’t run without his assistance. But wouldn’t you both be able to go faster if you didn’t hold hands, Sir and Madame?) Barton and Annie are too desperate for such niceties, and also they are far too close to worry about such things. As happened in the first scene when they met, at the circus, she drives him on, and vice versa. Peggy Cummins, in heels, barrels down the sidewalk, or leaps off the platform into the parking lot of the factory, and her urgency, her adrenaline, is part of what makes this character so damn memorable, so herself. She is a femme fatale, but she’s also a grubby dame in heels running for her life.

3. “She thicks man’s blood with cold.” – S.T. Coleridge

… and woman’s too. Cummins’ most frightening moment in Gun Crazy is not during the scenes where she manipulates Barton sexually and emotionally, or when she suddenly pulls a gun out on some unsuspecting citizen. Her most frightening moment is the chilly look she gives to Bart’s sister, while the duo is hiding out at the sister’s house. The sister is a harried mother of three, with a mostly-absent husband, and she loves her brother. She is willing to let them stay with her for a night, but that situation quickly goes south. It is too dangerous. Too many people know they are there. Cummins walks into that small domestic scene, looks down at the kids with an expression entirely lacking in warmth, and immediately starts to size up what she needs to do to get out of there alive. The key is keeping the sister in her cross-hairs at all times. The cross-hairs of her eyes. She stands in the kitchen, filing her nails, but she never looks down at her hands. Her eyes remain trained on Bart’s sister. Finally, Bart’s sister can no longer take it, and says, “Why are you looking at me like that??” Flatly, Cummins tosses the nail file down and says, “To make sure you won’t go to the phone.” This is a dame who is crazy about guns. She can hit a moving target from out of a moving car. But she doesn’t need to point a gun at the sister to keep her in line. All she has to do is look. That look is deadlier than any pistol.

4. The turn-around.

In one of the most amazing scenes in Gun Crazy, the two decide to separate and meet up further down the line. It would be safer if they were not together. It is a wrenching decision for the couple. By this point, they are completely in an ESP-relationship, where words have become almost irrelevant. They are one. This is the unique element that Peggy Cummins brings to her noir anti-heroine. She may be smarter than Bart, that is almost certain, but she, unlike, say, Jane Greer in Out of the Past, doesn’t maintain her cold clear intellect, snowing the men in her path. We may always keep Annie Laurie at arm’s length, she is a scary lady, but we never doubt that she is connected to Bart on a very primal level. Maybe that is because she can so easily control him, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I think she no longer knows how to breathe without him. I think she is so hooked into this guy that she couldn’t stop if she tried. He is essential to her being alive. The word “love” doesn’t even come into it. One can live without love, although it is hard. But Annie Laurie cannot live without this man, quite literally. So, after a tormented and rushed goodbye, they flee to two separate cars on a quiet street. Director Joseph Lewis films all of this in a rush of movement, his camera following the two cars as they pull away from separate curbs, the couple looking back at one another, devastated. They drive away from one another. At the same moment, they both put on the brakes, and stare back at each other. Then, as one, they both turn their cars around and barrel back towards one another. Brakes screech as the cars come to a halt. Bart jumps out of his car and runs toward her car. She moves over, he gets behind the wheel, and the two doomed gun-crazy lovers drive off. Here, Joseph Lewis doesn’t do any cuts, the end of the scene occurs in one take, a giant circle, where the moving camera is then attached to the grille of her car and follows them off. The camera had been moving up until that point, following him, so to see it suddenly stationary, driving off with the car, is perfect. It’s an incredible shot, more subjective and urgent due to the fact that it is one take. From what we have seen of Annie Laurie up until this moment, we may not be sure about her. We may think that she, like so many noir dames, is out to double-cross her innocent lover with the wide grin. She may be ready to kick him to the curb. He was dead weight anyway. But she plays this rushed scene with abandon that almost borders on the embarrassing, the best part about it. She is serious, grim, and in survival-mode, but as they drive away from each other, she can’t bear it. When he runs towards her car, and she comes into the frame, she is nearly leaping out of her seat, from her need of this man, her need to be close, to merge. This is not a swoony romantic scene. It is the companion piece to how she ate that burger. Her need to be close to this man is life or death, and that is what Peggy Cummins is playing in the frenzied moments when he gets into the car beside her, and they embrace. She nuzzles him, laughing out loud, head thrown back, a voracious portrait of need, desire, and satisfaction that is rather scary, and also totally right. Gun Crazy works on that ultra-disturbing level, the level that most memorable crime movies approach. We in the audience have moral compasses and recognize that these people need to be caught. But we get so involved in their story, we can’t help but hope it all works out, even though we know it will not. There is nothing calculated or manipulative about how Peggy Cummins nuzzles him and laughs, throat exposed, head thrown back, as the car drives off. She has thrown her lot in with his. For better or worse. If they’re going to go down, they will go down together.

5. The standoff

Doomed standoffs are nothing new in the movies. The standoff between Annie Laurie, Bart, and the cops chasing them through the mountains, calls to mind every standoff filmed, before or since. I think of Humphrey Bogart in High Sierra huddled in his mountain hide-out, surrounded on all sides, screaming down at the cops. Then there’s Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Or Dog Day Afternoon. What happens when two wily people come to the end of the line? How do they finally give up? How do they decide to “go out”? When they realize there is no way out, how do the criminals react? If the movie has done its job, we still hope for a respite, for some bargaining tool, for some deus ex machina. But the characters in the film are ahead of us out in the audience. It’s over. They know it. Their time is up. There is one final decision: HOW to go out. One final act of bravado or rebellion? Stepping directly into the line of fire? In Gun Crazy, Annie Laurie and Bart have been chased into the mountains. There is no more road. They abandon their car and take off on foot. Ferocious dogs are on their trail. The duo stumble through rivers, trying to throw the dogs off, but the altitude is so high the two struggle with catching their breath. She starts to lose momentum. She leans against a tree, heaving for breath. She can’t understand why she can’t run anymore. A very human moment: this criminal suddenly realizes her fallibility. Altitude affects us all. They finally hole up in a swamp, as the fog rolls in. They lie in one another’s arms in the darkness, listening to the barking dogs in the distance, the echoing shouts of the cops looking for them. Night has fallen. They are filthy. Peggy Cummins’ hair is long and wild, and in this, she looks completely and utterly modern. While Bart was classified as a “juvenile delinquent” very early on, due to his love affair with guns, it is Annie Laurie who is the career criminal. Bart wants to try to do something good with his love of guns, he has vague plans of teaching others to shoot. He can’t even shoot an animal. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Annie Laurie is a different story. She wants money, a good time, nice things. She’ll do what it takes. She has found a couple of stooges along her grimy little path, but these men were annoying to her. Too easily manipulated. The heat between her and Bart, seen immediately, is something she cannot resist. It’s not only the altitude that proves to her her human-ness. It’s her response to Bart. She starts to make decisions that lead her to her inevitable end, because of her connection to Bart. She loses perspective. There’s a moment in the swamp, in the night, when she raises her head up a little bit and looks down at him. The terror in her eyes is the rabid terror of a fox caught in a trap. It is against her very nature to allow herself to be caught, killed. But this is true for all of us. It is her decision, finally, about “how to go out”. She’s the one who throws herself into the void, shouting at death and those who want to capture her, that here she is, HERE SHE IS, she’ll kill ALL of them before she lets them take her. You can see that knowledge, of where she is going, in her eyes, as she raises her head and looks at her lover. Death is present. It’s over. It’s already over.

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43 Responses to 5 Things About Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy

  1. Ed Howard says:

    What a fantastic post, Sheila. You make me want to go put this movie on again NOW, this instant. You really capture how intense and sexy and crazy this movie is.

    Your point about the hamburger reminds me of Mila Kunis in Black Swan, who similarly devours a juicy burger in huge, hungry bites. There’s something sexy and vaguely threatening about both women in these scenes, like they’re asserting their status as man-eaters.

  2. sheila says:

    Put it on THIS INSTANT!! I absolutely love this movie!

    There’s so much I didn’t mention, but I chose those 5 things because I think they’re most revealing about who she is.

    Love the connection you made with Mila Kunis – that is right on! There’s also something compelling about a woman unembarrassed by her appetite. Not just for sex or power, but for food. You know, women aren’t supposed to eat. :) Not really. It’s hot, somehow, to see a woman who doesn’t care. Who attacks her burger unembarrassedly.

    • george says:

      “There’s so much I didn’t mention… “

      I await your mentioning them.

      It’s a gift to take an interesting movie – and performances – and make them eminently so.

    • m says:

      “There’s also something compelling about a woman unembarrassed by her appetite. Not just for sex or power, but for food. You know, women aren’t supposed to eat. :) Not really. It’s hot, somehow, to see a woman who doesn’t care. Who attacks her burger unembarrassedly.”

      Yeah, but that only “works” if the woman is thin. If she’s bigger than a size two, she’s going to get punished for that appetite.

      • sheila says:

        Sure, but we’re talking about the movies here. The realm of fantasy and image. A woman gnawing on a burger like Peggy Cummins does is a powerful image.

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  4. Doc Horton says:

    Sheila, I’d like to add to the heap a shovel full of praise for your writing, the specific words and images selected.

  5. Sheila – this is my favorite noir, so much so, that I use Peggy Cummins in full femme fatale mode as my photo stand-in on my website. She is a very relatable woman – strong, angry, full of desires, needy, shrewd, and completely out of her depth when dealing with her own emotions. You mention her need for Bart – and I would call it love, at least whatever love she’s capable of – but it’s her fear that makes her dangerous. She shoots when she’s afraid. When Bart shoots at her in the carnival, he forces her to feel afraid and survive it. He could be her salvation from the terrible fears she has. Unfortunately, as Fassbinder noted, Fear Eats the Soul, and Bart is her meal every bit as much as that hamburger.

    Great contribution. Thanks for supporting our blogathon.

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  7. sheila says:

    George – thank you, dear! I mean there’s so much about the film itself I didn’t mention – the incredible camera-in-the-back-seat one-shot of their bank robbery, which is amazing still, to this day, in its simplicity. It adds to the reality of the film. This is happening in real-time.

    Thank you again!

  8. sheila says:

    Doc – thank you. Your praise is much appreciated! I love this movie!

  9. sheila says:

    Marilyn – You bring up something that, yes, I totally should have mentioned: her fear and panic when her finger is on the trigger. It totally adds to her humanity – she has this GIANT tragic flaw. Without it, she could be a high-paid assassin, but as it is, she trembles in the face of confrontation … making her messy, human, flawed. And lovable. I love that dame.

    Yes. Fear eats the soul. It is primal: when one feels fear, one can’t rationalize, or negotiate with it. It’s fear. Humans are genetically predisposed to flee or lash out when they feel fear. It is how we have survived.

    How it manifests depends on the character being portrayed. Annie Laurie Starr haunts my dreams. I never get sick of that performance.

    And, by the way, my deepest thanks to what you said about my writing in your promo on your site. Seriously: it means the world to me, coming from a writer like yourself, and it is deeply appreciated. Thank you.

  10. Vanwall says:

    Wonderful post about a fave of mine! A frightening folie à deux, and it’s interesting to see Cummins as the alpha of the two – I don’t think she has a listen mode for a “safe word”, only that feral intensity – unstoppable. I think most actresses would have used the transferred male aspects of the time – control, even at a physical level, sexual voracity, and gun handling – as too mannish. Cummin does nothing of the kind, her Annie Laurie isn’t just a slightly new kind of screen sexual object, she’s her own animal, a whole new species. I always thought the scene in the sister’s kitchen was chilling even more for the col look she has for the kids – they may become something to shield behind, but more likely to be eliminated in Annie Laurie fashion.

  11. bybee says:

    You’re keeping me busy with the movies, and I’m having a great time.

    Peggy Cummins is remarkable in this movie. I’m glad they went ahead and made the character English instead of having her do an American accent. It’s a nice touch — Jane Austen she’s not!

    I like that camera shot they used a couple of times where Bart is framed by the steering wheel like he’s in a cage and he’s gripping the wheel.

  12. Bill Hicks says:

    Ever thought of comparing the Japanese movie “Pale Flower” with this one? I happened to watch “Flower” last night–and it strikes me that the femme fatale in that one is rather similar to the Cummins character.

  13. sheila says:

    Vanwall – thanks for commenting!

    // I don’t think she has a listen mode for a “safe word”, // hahaha That’s a great way to put it.

    And I totally agree with what you say about what she brought to the part – there’s nothing mannish at all. She is an original.

    That look she gives the kids makes my blood run cold. I love when they’re all sitting around having coffee at the table, and she’s like this wild animal trying to behave herself in that tiny room.

  14. sheila says:

    Bill – I haven’t seen Pale Flower, but I just put it on my queue. Your comment has me intrigued. Thanks.

  15. Bill Hicks says:

    The director’s remarks which come with the DVD I rented are worth the time as well. Glad you’re going to check it out. Cheers, B

  16. sheila says:

    Yes, I certainly will – thanks so much!

  17. I’m now thinking about seeing other films available with Cummins. Gun Crazy and Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon have stood up to multiple viewings. On a related note to the blogathon, Cummins is in the British film, Hell Drivers directed by Cy Endfield.

  18. Gun Crazy is one of my favorite films, and you match its crazy passion with your own mad movie love. Terrific.

  19. sheila says:

    Hilary – I have been reading thru your site and laughing until I cry at your awesome film-noir limericks. You are amazing and I am just sorry I am only discovering you now.

    Thanks for the nice words – I never get sick of talking about this movie!

  20. Love this post. Must see movie. If only for the hamburger scene, of which your description intrigues me no end.

  21. David Steece says:

    Awesome post.

    I love your point about their last minute turnaround. They would’ve probably been alright if they’d just split up for a while, but they couldn’t be out of each other’s presence even for a moment.

    The dynamic b/t Bart and Annie reminded me of ‘Born to Kill.’ That one was originally titled ‘Deadlier than the Male’ (which is an odd coincidence,) and it has Lawrence Tierney as a sort of Homme Fatale.
    Noir is full of characters like this—people that may be slightly neurotic, but without their Folie imposée they’d always be small-time. Your reference to alchemy was spot-on.

    Great blog, I’m definitely going to be checking out your archives.

  22. april says:

    Donation made; film added to queue. Sounds like another good one…

  23. Charles J. Sperling says:

    Off the top of my head, the only film noir in which “Deadly Is the Female” doesn’t apply is Joseph Losey’s “Prowler,” where Evelyn Keyes is much nicer than Van Heflin.

    Those who wait shall be rewarded, because all of last week I wanted to “leave a comment” and ask what you’d be treating. But I stopped myself whenever I felt the impulse, because I knew you’d be on the case, and whatever you delivered would justify the patience.

    I expected something marvelous. I more than received it.

    Joseph H. Lewis’s comments to John Dall (who, curiously enough, given your citing of Loeb and Leopold as a duo, two years earlier portrayed the Loeb character in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope”) and Peggy Cummins are worth quoting:

    “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.'”

    Lewis said that “I didn’t have to give them more directions” after that.

    (Lewis also directed “The Big Combo,” which you’ve looked at elsewhere, and given that Jean Wallace plays a Susan as sympathetic as Evelyn Keyes’s, I really should see that again. Particularly after seeing Richard Conte as Don Barzini in “The Godfather” yesterday. I’ll try not to giggle when Mingo and Fante talk about the salami.)

    I will take your five things over Godard’s “Deux ou Trois Choses” and wish you’d made it “Thirteen Ways,” as if the subject were blackbirds instead of guns (or guns ‘n’ roses).

    Dall also turns up in “Spartacus” (his character underestimates Spartacus and comes back in disgrace, which leaves the field open to John Gavin’s Julius Caesar…hmm, everything is connected, isn’t it? Gavin also worked for Hitchcock, in “Psycho,” as did co-stars Charles Laughton. in “Frenchman’s Creek” and “The Paradine Case.” and Laurence Olivier, in “Rebecca”). A much more subdued Cummins can be found in the 1957 “Hell Drivers,” though you might not see her considering that the men in the cast include Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom, Gordon Jackson, Patrick McGoohan, Sean Connery and David McCallum…to say nothing of the first Dr. Who, William Hartnell…

    On to Iran!

  24. sheila says:

    David Steece – Thanks for commenting! I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with murderous duos. I have a “true crime” bookshelf, and I am fascinated by the psychological transfer that seems to happen between two people, creating an entirely OTHER personality. Gun Crazy is such a good example of it. Her fear/adrenaline when it comes to shooting the trigger is somehow matched and evened out by his personality – so together they perfectly make up for the other’s flaws/shortcomings. They have become “whole”. That’s supposedly a good thing, but sometimes it’s terrifying. And yeah, it’s why they have to turn around their cars in such a rush to be together. They just can’t go on.

    What an amazing scene. I am still curious about how the camera was moving and then, in the same take, it was attached to the other car. I know I read somewhere an interview with Lewis about how he did that.

    Anyway, thanks again for commenting and I hope you come back!

  25. Hokahey says:

    Sheila – Thanks for this wonderful post on a favorite B-movie. I always love watching the burger scene. They are clearly, convincingly starved, and that intensifies their plight as fugitives. I love the elements you have presented above – especially the running; there’s lots of great running in this movie.

  26. phil says:

    Re-read your post just after seeing this film for the first time.
    You nail it beautifully. Weird – I found myself talking back to a film for the first time ever (“Oh, yeah? Yeah!”). And I couldn’t shake the thought that Dall’s face looks like Hilary Swank. Which means nothing – just had to get it out of my system.
    Man, I love the camera work. So way ahead of its time. The whole movie seems like a blueprint for ever gangster movie made since.

    In the short novel ‘The 39 Steps,’ the man on the run whistles the song Annie Laurie as he stops for a moment to rest at a bridge with a calming stream below, exhausted from his harried flight from the law. I don’t know – maybe there’s a connection.

    Thanks, Sheila.
    I would’ve never heard of this great film if it wasn’t for you.

  27. DOuG pRATt says:

    Hi — I found your post after doing my own about “Gun Crazy,” which was on TCM tonight. Very good essay, and I am likewise in awe of Peggy Cummins’ performance. The complete movie is on YouTube in ten parts, that I put in a playlist for my post:


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  29. Barbara Roisman Cooper says:

    Great comments about Gun Crazy. Thanks for your very interesting insight into the film. I just interviewed Peggy Cummins for the third time for my next book, Great Britons of Stage and Screen: In Conversation. At 86, she is remarkable, and still looks like a cinema actress. Thanks again for your input.

    • sheila says:

      Barbara – wow, your book sounds fantastic. I will certainly keep my eyes peeled for it.

      This performance by Cummings is one of the all-time great performances!

  30. Michael Di Cera says:

    I was attracted to this movie when I saw the DVD cover photo. It looked like peggy was going to be dangerous and hot. I was right. I bought it, and I’ve watched a couple times already. I love how he adores her even though she’s crazy. It’s one of my favorite films. Great review.

  31. Paul Duane says:

    Sheila – I told Peggy about this article while she was in Dublin, particularly your comment about the sandwich scene. She said, “Well, we WERE hungry!” But she was rather pleased that the performance is still being watched and analysed so closely. We sat next to each other during a screening of the restored Gun Crazy and a couple of times she turned to me and said “Wasn’t I a good runner?”, which, of course, she was. I’ve sent a link to this page to her via her son. As another commenter says above, she still looks every inch the movie star. A real one-off, and the creator of possibly my favourite female performance in all of noir (Detour’s Ann Savage possibly excepted).

    • sheila says:

      Oh, Paul, your comment makes me so happy! Thank you so much for sharing – I am so glad you got to meet up with her again, and that you passed my small tribute along. One of my favorite performances ever.

      Thank you so much for reporting back – wish I could have teleported myself over to Dublin to see it with you all!

  32. Tom McGuire says:

    Peggy Cummins is fantastic in Gun Crazy. Her acting is natural and believable, almost like she is the character she is playing. This deadly female puts me in mind of another deadly female, Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven.

  33. Bruce Gibbins says:

    Sheila. I enjoyed reading your analysis of Gun Crazy.
    Watching this film was like listening to a piece of music for the first time. It tears at your heart and that feeling is so hard to describe in a way that means anything.
    Ther is a magic to this film as many dispirite themes come together to create something that is unique and almost unfathomable. It’s like, Brigadoon, that appears only once in hundred years and then is gone swallowd up by the Highland mist. The story called, Gun Crazy is much like that. Part of the mystery that endures is Laurie’s story prior to her working as a fair ground sharp shooter.
    It matters, but then it doesn’t after all. She is who she is and it’s all the more fascinating because of it. We know that she is special yet familiar. It seems as though Peggy Cummins is playing the part without a script. Not so much an ad lib, but from instinct. Watch a very different Peggy in the British film, Hell Drivers.

    playing the part of, Laurie? It is kind of like being part of the film, not just as a viewer but not a voyeur either nor is it experiencing the movie vicariously.
    This is a remarkable movie because it brings so many seemingly disperate features together to make GC into the wonderful story that it is.

  34. Jim Tichenor says:

    Sheila –
    Just came back from seeing Gun Crazy at a theater. Your post is wonderful, brave and full of insight. Wish everyone could share in the scary power of this great film. Thanks for being willing to get out there with the reality of how this movie works. I had seen the movie years ago and have been haunted by it. Had to go again tonight, and take my wife!
    She’s a Peggy Cummins fan too. – Jim

    • sheila says:

      Jim – thanks for your comment! I am envious that you went and saw it in a theatre. Actually I think it was just playing in New York at the Film Forum in a “true crime” series – or maybe it’s still playing – and I haven’t been able to find the time to get to it.

      “Scary power” indeed. I never ever get sick of this film – and Peggy Cummins is a marvel. I mean, how influential is this performance, when you think about it? EVERYONE copies it.

      Thanks again for your comment – I love discussing this film!

  35. Thomas Molitor says:

    I’d never seen this movie before but was driven to renting it after reading all these glowing comments and, as always, your excellent analysis, Shelia. Two blacklisted talents – Morris Carnovsky and the uncredited Dalton Trumbo – and the 14-year-old Russ Tamblyn. Sublime. The black-and-white dolly pushes into the actors’ faces with snow falling into frame shouts Gregg Toland and shouts him well. Love the framing when the young Bart is afraid of shooting the mountain lion and his friends do the shooting in the b.g. with a CU of Bart’s hand in the foreground clenching with each round fired. These are movie moments when I ask, ‘was that in the script or did the director/DP come up with it?’

    Love the scenes when Cummins wears her hair atop, a la Gibson Girl. Sexy, sexy, sexy. Wasn’t it more dramatic when story exposition was done through a teletype machine rather than today through a cell phone or an email or a text message? And doesn’t the absence of helicopters hovering overhead give criminals a fairer chance of escape?

    Loved it, absolutely loved it!

    • sheila says:

      It’s an exhilarating film. I think people probably imitate it today without having any idea that THAT is what they are imitating. GUN CRAZY spawned 1000 children.

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