Alphabetical Movie – Gun Crazy
Gun Crazy is a 40’s film that was part of a film noir package I picked up a few years back. I pick up a lot of film noir packages because I enjoy the genre even though the classic film noir is hamstrung a little bit by the fact we know the Hayes code will require any guilty party to be punished for their deeds. Doesn’t matter if they are the least bit sympathetic – they are still going to get nailed.
The concept of evil under the Hayes code is most interesting when you consider how the subject of sex was treated. I’m not sure that we’ve ever escaped from the idea that sex is taboo in film. Gun Crazy is loosely based on the exploits of Bonnie and Clyde but, in true noir fashion, it features a bad girl pushing a good boy into a life of sin.
One scene, in particular, struck me when watching the film this time. Our lead male, Bart, is basically a good guy who has a gun fetish. He’s managed to make a good life for himself as a shooting instructor in the army but now he’s mustered out and is looking for a new career.
He meets Annie at a carnival. She is a trick shooter in the side-show and their mutual attraction is obvious. Eventually, they get forced out of the carnival, get married and go on a whirlwind honeymoon that lasts until they run out of money.
So what are they going to do next? Bart thinks they should settle down, get respectable jobs and have a nice, simple life.
Annie tells him that she isn’t that kind of girl. She loves the fast life and either they need to start breaking some laws to make quick bucks or she’s out the door.
As she tells him this, she is lying on a bed in a bathrobe. The message is pretty clear – even if it is never explicitly stated – if you want some of this, you are going to need to do exactly what I want. Sex is power in film noir and more importantly, female sexuality is power.
That moment with Annie lying on the bed, Bart goes from a good guy to a crook and his fate is sealed. Because sex with Annie is the ultimate temptation. He is powerless against her barely covered breasts.
What is notable in noir is the fact that sex is almost always an evil force. If a woman is offering a guy sex, she is up to no good and she has the ultimate tool to get him to submit to her will. It works like a charm, too. Good guys turn into bad guys when Barbara Stanwyk flashes the bedroom eyes.
Not that I entirely blame them.
The message is one that we are still trying to change. Sex is bad. Sex is evil. Women who use sex for – you know – pleasure or especially for power are bad girls. The man is in control in the bedroom and as soon as he lets himself to be dominated by a woman sexually, he is no longer an empowered man.
Bart’s decision to break bad never really feels like it was his decision. It was a decision made on his behalf by his penis. He is a sympathetic character in part because he is powerless to resist the temptations of a woman.
The way motion picture ratings are handed down even now suggest that we haven’t completely escaped from the idea that sex is evil. We have no problem with massively violent films being shown to children. Even mildly suggestive sex or sexual language gets a film rated PG-13.
Sex is so often the driving force in film noir. The men want it. Women provide it but the price is the man’s soul.
It isn’t a healthy recipe but it does make for some damn fine films.