In my last review, I wrote a bit about how I’m currently fascinated with génial–nanar blends – films that are very impressive and enjoyable in some scenes, yet are so stupid, bizarre, or unimpressive that they become enjoyable in other scenes. One of the best examples of this type of film is unsurprisingly found in the film noir genre: Gun Crazy, also known as Deadly Is the Female. While I don’t think it’s meant to be a comedy, many scenes are so strange or absurd that they seem laughable, giving me a feeling that’s no so different from what I get when I watch Duck Soup in that it feels almost like a child’s idea of how to make a movie rather than a rational adult’s. What I think Gun Crazy demonstrates is that this group of films, in which I would include Gun Crazy, often achieves this state by trying to be completely interesting, surprising, or unique.
First, consider the strange aspects of this film. The protagonist is obviously a very odd choice for a romantic lead in a crime drama because of his tall, lanky, silly appearance, which is only made sillier by his awkward smile and his unexplained obsession with guns. Towards the beginning of the film, two characters are presented as children – Clyde Boston and Dave Alastair – who are dressed as adults and look exactly the same when they grow up. Towards the end, Annie is randomly crazy enough to steal the baby from Ruby’s house to keep herself (and Bart) from getting shot by police. The foggy, swampy environment of the ending looks nothing like the rest of the film, and wouldn’t naturally occur in that location, breaking what little sense of realism the film had maintained. Best of all is the line that was nominated for inclusion in AFI’s 100 Movie Quotes: “We go together, Laurie. I don’t know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together.”
Now consider just how much of Gun Crazy is clever and creative. The opening titles are presented over the background that becomes the first scene, meaning the cast and crew held on that shot for a few minutes before they started moving – nothing novel, but certainly something rare and interesting. As far as the storytelling goes, there is great irony in the fact that the protagonist first encounters his lover when she shoots him and their relationship ends when he shoots her. The bank robbery scene that was shot all in one take is highly impressive from a technical standpoint, not to mention how difficult it must have been for the performers to time everything properly and improvise any needed dialogue. Even some of the weirdest things can be viewed from a perspective that makes them seem clever. For example, one might see the representation of young Clyde and Dave as miniature adults as an indication that much of the film (or at least the opening scene that takes place in the past) is being presented from Bart’s perspective according to his memory.
Ultimately, all of these positive elements and bizarre elements seem to come from the same directorial approach: making the film as interesting as possible – striving to make things unique at all costs. Trying things that people have never done before in cinema can lead to the greatness of Citizen Kane or the ridiculousness of a Joel Schumacher film. In spite of its resemblance to other film noir, it clearly strives to be very much its own film, refusing to let anyone say that it is not unique. This isn’t the greatest answer to my question of how we get génial–nanar blends, and it is not my final answer – in fact one professor of mine found it very inadequate, arguing instead that it has something more to do with affect. Still, the desire to make something very different from what everyone’s seen before, something that’s very captivating and memorable at all costs, does seem to be at least a preliminary requirement for the génial–nanar. I don’t think anyone else would have thought to make a film noir with a tiny touch of the western and a big load of goofiness, but the fact that this mixture was somehow able to get produced in the height of the studio system’s panicked identity crisis is enough to make it the unique novelty that audiences never knew they wanted.