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Review: Gun Crazy: The Birth of American Outlaw Cinema by Eddie Muller March 13, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Movies.
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guncrazyEddie Muller, as mentioned in the Goodis post below, has spent the last 20 years or so becoming one of the go-to guys on the subject of film noir. He’s written several books, but this is the first time he’s focused on a single film. And what a film.

Gun Crazy is a 1950 b movie with a devoted cult following. Neither of its stars, John Dall and Peggy Cummins, had wildly successful careers, but their performances, the screenplay by Dalton Trumbo from a MacKinlay Kantor story, and the direction by Joe Lewis make this the best doomed lovers on a crime spree movie ever.

Muller’s books on noir aren’t dry film studies texts. He’s an opinionated fan, not an academic, so his books are entertaining reads. In this book, well illustrated with photos, copies of documents, and shots from the film, he sets out to dispel some of the myths that have apparently grown about the movie — some spread by Lewis, the director, some by writers who favour the auteur theory. Muller spends a lot of time looking at the development of the story, from the Kantor short story through the script development and on through filming and editing. Along the way he provides background on Kantor, the King Brothers (the producers), Joe Lewis, writer Dalton Trumbo, and Dall and Cummins.

The film is a compelling mix of bravura filmmaking with, at times, surprising amounts of stock footage. Muller goes into detail on the two big heist scenes in the movie, the extended single shot bank robbery and the Armour heist. These scenes and others are technical feats that don’t draw attention to themselves because the viewer is caught up in the suspense.

Muller ends the book with a brief look at the undeniable influence Gun Crazy had on films like Breathless and Bonnie and Clyde. The book’s a pretty fast read, very well laid out and designed. Definitely recommended to film buffs. Order direct from Black Pool Productions.

(I’ve read another book on Gun Crazy, a BFI Film Classics book by Jim Kitses. It’s a long time since I read that one, but I’m pretty sure that the world has room for both books.)