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Gun Crazy

Film Noir on Blu-ray: ‘Moonrise,’ ‘Gun Crazy,’ ‘No Orchids,’ and the restored ‘Man Who Cheated Himself’

The Man Who Cheated Himself (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD)
Moonrise (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Gun Crazy (Warner Archive, Blu-ray)
No Orchids for Miss Blandish (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)

Flicker Alley

Lee J. Cobb takes the lead as Lt. Ed Cullen, a veteran Homicide detective in a secret affair with socialite Lois Frazer (Jane Wyatt) while she’s in the midst of a divorce, in The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950), an independently-made film noir shot on location in San Francisco. When she shoots her soon-to-be-ex-husband (in self-defense), Ed looks over the incriminating evidence and decides that a cover-up is in her best interest. When he’s assigned the case, all looks good, except that his rookie partner—his newlywed and newly promoted younger brother Andy (John Dall)—digs into the evidence and uncovers contradictions in the case, despite Ed’s efforts to nudge him in other directions. It’s a classic good cop gone bad set-up but Ed isn’t greedy or corrupt, merely protective of the woman he loves, which gets complicated because he’s equally protective of his kid brother determined to pull at every loose thread. Wyatt is an unlikely femme fatale, less cold-blooded than practical, but Cobb is excellent as the tough mug of a cop swayed by love and the two deliver a beautifully understated coda that sums up their relationship without a word, merely glances and body language that suggests a tenderness that still exists between them. Dall is the opposite as the bright and energetic rookie on the trail of his first big case, with wide grins and a twinkle in his eye.

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Gun Crazy

[Originally published in the National Society of Film Critics anthology The B List]

John Dall and Peggy Cummins

If you had to select a single film to justify the present enthusiasm for film noir and define its allure, few movies could compete with Gun Crazy. The same goes for celebrating the potential of B-movies to achieve grade-A flair, excitement, and artistic intelligence. The picture taps brazenly into a sexual, almost feral energy that makes it unique, even in a school of film known for perverse psychology and smoldering subtexts. And it achieves its ends on an observably limited budget, via two strategies that ought to clash but instead invigorate each other: the bold stylization of expressionistic, verging-on-minimalist settings, and the camera’s embrace of the real world in adventurous, sustained takes that approach documentary realism … except that the keynote of documentaries is rarely frenzy.

The premise is elemental. Bart Tare, an orphaned boy in a small American town, has an obsession with guns—owning them, touching them, and especially shooting them with proficiency, which makes him “feel awful good inside, like I’m somebody.” Following several years in reform school and four more in the Army, Bart the man (John Dall) comes home an earnestly pleasant young fellow, albeit with his obsession intact. When he crosses paths with Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), a carnival trick-shooter who happens to be, in the words of her spieler boss, “soooo appealing, soooo dangerous, soooo lovely to look at,” no power on earth could keep them out of each other’s arms. What Bart doesn’t know till much later is that Laurie once killed a man (Gun Crazy initially was released under the title Deadly Is the Female), and before long she has persuaded him to join her in a cross-country crime spree that also plays like an extended honeymoon.

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