Life and Times in the Warfare State

Still from “Gun Crazy.”

The recent death of British actress Peggy Cummins, at age 92, prompted my quick return to her 1950 film noir classic Gun Crazy – a movie that still resonates with historical and cultural force.   Regarded as something of a transcendent work, Gun Crazy with its fugitive lovers on the run (Cummins being described as a “female Dillinger”) would actually turn out to be far less transgressive than generally believed when the picture was first released.   Cummins’ passing occurred just before the most recent episode of mass killings in Broward County, Florida.

Cummins teamed with John Dall in one of the enduring romantic sagas of Hollywood cinema – a gun-crazed crime spree mixing brazen outlawry with sexual adventure, forerunner to Bonnie and Clyde, Natural Born Killers, and True Romance.  The ultimately doomed couple was said to go together “like guns and ammunition go together”.   While Joseph Lewis’ movie lacked certain noir characteristics (it was, for example, brightly lit), it did celebrate a familiar icon of the genre, and of American culture – the gun.   Here Gun Crazy fit the trajectory of earlier Hollywood traditions: Westerns, combat features, gangster movies.   In contrast to those blood-soaked features, however, noir filmmakers usually preferred the more concealable handgun.

In his book simply titled Gun Crazy, Jim Kitses could write: “In noir, all of America is gun crazy, the inevitable side-effect of a…

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