John Dall as Bart Tare, armed robber on the run
San Lorenzo Valley, California, Fall 1949, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Spring 1950
Film: Gun Crazy
(also released as Deadly is the Female)
Release Date: January 20, 1950
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Costume Designer: Norma Koch (credited with Peggy Cummins’ costumes only)
Fifteen years after armed robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were ambushed and killed on a rural Louisiana road, one of the first attempts to adapt their story for the silver screen arrived in theaters. Sure, there had been Fritz Lang’s sympathetic melodrama You Only Live Once (1937) and the FBI-endorsed propaganda Persons in Hiding (1939), but Gun Crazy—released exactly 70 years ago today—most effectively latched onto the intrigue of a gun-toting couple on the run, and, “more than any other, emphasizes the powerful attraction of weaponry in the growing legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” according to John Treherne, author of The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde.
Gun Crazy‘s telling original title of Deadly is the Female reflects the narrative leaning into the noir-esque premise of a dominating femme fatale, an expert in firearms who seduces her lovestruck fella into a life of crime… an inverse of the generally accepted reality of the relationship between violent manipulator Clyde Barrow and the vulnerable and troubled Bonnie Parker.
A year after his chilling turn as the calculating, Loeb-like murderer in Hitchcock’s Rope, John Dall stars as the malleable Bart Tare, who finds himself fatefully—and fatally—drawn to the voluptuous carnival sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), “the darling of London, England,” though it’s a toss-up whether it’s her tight pants, knowing wink, or dueling pistols that sink the hook into the already doomed Bart.
Early Warner Brothers criminal fare like The Public Enemy and Angels with Dirty Faces often kicked off their stories with vignettes from the characters’ childhoods to explain their motivations. In this case, we start with a teenage Bart Tare (Russ Tamblyn), who embraces his talent for shooting sling-shots and BB guns by graduating to the unfortunate choice of stealing a stag-gripped revolver from a storefront window. The clumsy young criminal doesn’t have the purloined pistol in his hands for seconds before it clatters to the ground and lands at the feet of the local sheriff. The judge isn’t sold by Bart’s family and friends testifying that he is repulsed by the thought of taking a life, illustrated by his remorse after shooting a young bird with a BB gun, and the young Bart gets the proverbial book thrown at him.
After four years in reform school and a stint teaching marksmanship in the Army, Bart finds himself back in his hometown, blissfully at ease firing the Remington .22 pump rifle that had been a boyhood favorite for Bart and his pals Dave Allister (Nedrick Young) and Clyde Boston (Harry Lewis), now a newspaper reporter and the sheriff, respectively. Dave and Clyde welcome Bart back home by taking him to a carnival where he encounters Annie for the first time, accepting her crooked boss Packett’s challenge to try to outshoot her, a contest that would either yield him $500 or require him to pay $50. To Packett’s dismay and Laurie’s intrigued disappointment, Bart equals her at the initial challenge before besting her at “the crown”, where each fire at six matches placed atop the other’s head.
“What else do you do besides shoot?” asks Laurie. “Well, it’s been enough so far,” responds Bart, who finds himself offered a job on the spot by Laurie and the shady Packy in “the crookedest little carnival layout west of the Mississippi.”
It isn’t long before Bart gets both of them fired from the show for confronting their opportunistic manager, so Bart and Laurie get married and spend an idyllic honeymoon traveling through the southwest, eating through their dwindling funds as more and more weeks pass since their last paid work. Their poverty reaches a point that, one night in a cheap greasy spoon, Bart has to turn down onions on his hamburger to avoid paying the extra nickel.
The humbling experience convinces at least Laurie that it’s time to think of more ‘creative’ ways to earn money… to “start kicking back” rather than continue to be kicked around all her life. Laurie tells him that if he won’t comply, he should just kiss her good bye… and the kiss is enough to convince him to begin right away, robbing the very hotel where they’re currently staying. After the bungled “one last job” to steal the payroll from an Armour factory in Albuquerque where Laurie committed the duo’s first murders, they’re back on the run with their dream of getting rich and growing old together all but impossible. The two try to stick to their plan on driving away in separate cars, meeting again in two months, but even two minutes separated is unbearable for the doomed couple and they speed back to meet and agree on the unspoken pact to meet their fate together, whatever it may be.
Based on a script co-written by MacKinlay Kantor and a then-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (who was fronted by his friend Millard Kaufman), Gun Crazy was filmed in just 30 days for less than a half million dollars. B-movie specialist Joseph H. Lewis saved time and money with his direction, often exploring guerrilla film-making techniques including a real-time robbery sequence filmed from the back seat of Laurie and Bart’s “getaway car” as the actors improvised dialogue with few extras or surrounding drivers aware of what was actually happening. You can check out the actual locations where this sequence as well as the rest of the movie was filmed here.
What’d He Wear?
Aside from his disguises, Western-themed carnival costume, and the occasional two-piece suit, Bart Tare generally spends his civilian days and brief criminal career dressed in the trusty combination of a tweed jacket, button-down shirt, knit tie, and flannel trousers.
Gun Crazy was produced during the brief heyday of what Esquire promoted in April 1948 as the “Bold Look” in American menswear, embracing the post-WWII boom and the full-cut clothing produced as a reaction to lifting the wartime restrictions on clothing production. Jackets and trousers were both cut fuller and longer as clothing manufacturers took advantage of the bounteous material available to them. According to Francesca Sterlacci and Joanne Arbuckle in The A to Z of the Fashion Industry, the Bold Look was specifically characterized by “a loose-fitting jacket with pronounced shoulders.”
A lean 6’1″, John Dall occasionally looks dwarfed by his long, enveloping herringbone tweed sport jacket, cut with the requisite wide shoulders of the era, ventless back, and the boxy, shapeless “sack coat” styling associated with American menswear. Constructed of a durable woolen tweed, the single-breasted jacket looks well lived-in and would serve Bart well through his months on the road with an array of patch pockets to be filled with extra cartridges or cash yielded through the fruits of his new vocation.
The broad notch lapels, which roll to a three-button front balanced by Dall’s height, are also indicative of some of the trendy postwar excesses, though the widths of jacket lapels, shirt collars, and tie blades during the late 1940s would still be widely outdone during the height of the disco era three decades later.
There are plenty of lobby cards from the time of the film’s release with contemporary suggestions of the colors of Bart’s clothing, though the jacket only briefly appears in the bottom of one lobby card, where it is colored in an earthy tan, a popular shade for tweed jackets like this. Bart’s shirt and tie on the other hand, are widely featured in this contemporary artwork, typically colored with a pale-to-light blue shirt and a dark maroon tie.
Likely a light blue as the lobby cards suggest, Bart’s oxford cloth cotton shirt has a button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket with a pointed bottom, and rounded barrel cuffs that each close with a button. His dark knitted tie with its flat bottom provides harmonious textural coordination with his rugged tweed jacket and considerably dressed-down shirt.
Pleated trousers were arguably the prevailing style in American menswear during what some call its “golden age” from the 1930s into the 1950s, particularly during the Bold Look years as tailors and clothiers celebrated the ample cloth at their disposal. Bart’s flannel trousers are rigged with double reverse pleats, though the second pleats are particularly shallow as the lean John Dall would not have needed the fullness that a deeper second pleat would have added.
(Though the aforementioned lobby cards help to suggest colors of Bart’s clothing, the coloration artists seem to have disagreed on the trousers with colors ranging from tan to gray, even sourcing images from the same scene!)
The trousers have a high rise to Dall’s natural waist, where they’re held in place by a slim, double-ridged belt in dark leather with a small single-prong buckle that he wears both centered and slightly hitched off to the right side, particularly seen as Bart and Laurie make their getaway from the Armour meat packing plant robbery. Finished on the bottoms with then-fashionable turn-ups (cuffs), Bart’s trousers have semi-dropped “Hollywood”-style belt loops, side pockets with a straight vertical opening just forward of each side seam, and jetted back pockets, the left one closing through a single button.
Bart and Laurie’s honeymooning weeks were full of dancing, laughter, and adventure… but not prosperity. After failing to “buck Las Vegas” as Laurie had hoped, the honeymooning couple slouches at the end table in a train car-styled diner, pinching their nickels by keeping onions off their hamburgers and fueling their scheming with free coffee refills.
He’s tellingly dressed in the same duds he wore when he met her, supplanted with a medium-dark V-neck sweater to protect against the chilly desert night… as well as the chill in Laurie’s attitude as she focuses on finding a new way to transform their passion for firearms into a lucrative career. And not one working at a carnival.
Bart appears to wear one pair of shoes throughout his adventures with Laurie, a set of plain dark leather two-eyelet derby shoes with squared moc-toe fronts, worn with dark socks.
After Bart and Laurie determine to follow a criminal path, he begins wearing a shoulder holster, though it isn’t the commonly seen rig hidden completely by his jacket. At first, I thought Bart was wearing a military holster, similar to the modern 1942 “Tanker” Holster manufactured by El Paso Saddlery Co., though his differs as the holster is on the same side as the main strap.
Best seen during the final sequence as the couple makes their getaway from Santa Monica, Bart’s holster is constructed with a thick strap over the left shoulder that connects to a holster under the left armpit. A thinner strap hooks just above the holster and stretches down around his torso, ostensibly connecting to a similar strip in the back
For one robbery where Bart hesitates to kill a pursuing policeman much to Laurie’s chagrin, he adds a camel coat and sunglasses to his usual tweed jacket and tie. The knee-length overcoat has notch lapels that roll to a single-breasted, covered-fly front. The shoulders are padded, and the large side pockets have vertical welted openings for Bart to slip his revolver into rather than fussing with his shoulder holster under the additional layers. The set-in sleeves are turned-up at the ends with a small button in the uppermost corner of each cuff.
Bart’s tortoise-framed sunglasses with their rounded lens were typical of the era. Similar retro-minded styles are still available today, from eyewear stalwarts like PECK and Ray-Ban or budget brands on such as A.J. Morgan, Carfia, or ZENOTTIC.
Occasionally seen on Bart’s left wrist is a metal watch with a round, light-colored dial on a dark leather strap. This may be John Dall’s own timepiece and not meant to be part of the character’s wardrobe as several scenes of Bart with his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbow reveal bare wrists.
A movie called Gun Crazy isn’t gonna be about sling shots, though it’s primarily six-shooters and rarely anything heavier that our duo on the run uses throughout, aside from the .22-caliber pump rifle that Bart fires with his pals in the early scenes.
For the most part, the guns that both Bart and Laurie find themselves so crazy about are Colt products, right down to the massive M1917 revolver that the teenage Bart hoped to purloin in the opening sequence. Years later, he attends Laurie’s shooting demonstration at the carnival where she packs a pair of nickel Colt Police Positive revolvers.
Colt introduced the Police Positive in 1907, initially for smaller calibers before developing the Police Positive Special the following year to carry the more powerful .38 Special round. Apropos its designation, the lightweight steel Police Positive became a fast favorite among American law enforcement agencies.
During their crime spree, Bart carries a blued steel Colt, likely the Colt Official Police that was introduced in 1927 as a larger-framed alternative to the Police Positive. The Official Police actually evolved from an earlier Colt revolver designated the “Army Special” but, with the advent of semi-automatic service pistols like the venerable M1911, Colt rebranded this revolver to appeal to the American police market. The weapon’s name and reputation made an impression and, within half a decade, major police departments from New York to Los Angeles were arming its officers with .38 Special Official Police revolvers… though more than a few crooks on the other side of the law favored the reliable revolver as well.
Never fired on screen but prominently featured are the “handmade… English dueling pistols” that Bart proudly carries in a display case, taking the time to keep them clean even when he and Laurie barely have a dollar between them.
Admittedly, I have little experience with identifying dueling pistols like this, so all I can offer is what is shared on screen… though I do wonder if there’s some significance in the frequently referenced fact that Bart’s pistols are English-made, not unlike the woman that leads him astray.
How to Get the Look
Though Gun Crazy is 70 years old, John Dall’s tweed jacket, button-down shirt, knit tie, and flannel trousers could very effectively be worn today, albeit with some adjustments for a more contemporary fit.
- Herringbone tweed single-breasted 3-button sport jacket with notch lapels, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Light blue oxford cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, and rounded button cuffs
- Dark knitted tie with flat bottom
- Medium-colored flannel double reverse-pleated high-rise trousers with semi-dropped “Hollywood” belt loops, straight side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Slim double-ridged dark leather belt with small single-prong buckle
- Dark leather squared moc-toe 2-eyelet derby shoes
- Dark socks
- Dark leather shoulder holster with cross-torso strap
- Camel single-breasted overcoat with fly front, set-in sleeves with cuffs, and vertical welted pockets
- Tortoise round-framed sunglasses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
We go together, Laurie. I don’t know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together.