A gunpowder romance as Annie Starr is the bullet that loads Bart Tare’s pistol, an explosive orgasm of deadly lead that finally breaches his fugitive morality. An exceptional screenplay by Dalton Trumbo blasts the screen with thinly veiled sexual innuendo: Annie’s grip upon the steel erection and Bart’s boyish masturbatory fetish (“shooting my gun just makes me feel good inside”), leads to their descent into self destructive fantasy.
As a young boy, Bart is arrested for Burglary while attempting to steal a handgun. As he and his friends plead to the Judge about Bart’s moral character, they keenly express that he never intends to injure living things…he just has an obsession with guns. In a flashback, Bart tells of killing a baby chicken with a pellet gun and this begins a path towards enlightenment where he respects all living creatures: this is the beginning of spiritual Ahimsa. He grows into a kind and gentle man, likable and friendly with a boyish smile and charm that is not a ruse. But his mania still exists and becomes fueled by desire for a sharp shooting queen he meets at a circus: a femme fatale who knows how to handle his gun. Soon they are married and on a cross-country crime spree but he refuses to harm anyone, and in one tender scene he overflows with guilt about shooting out the tires of a police car because an officer could have been injured.
Director Joseph Lewis creates palpable friction as he films a bank robbery entirely from the back of their car: Bart disappears into the building while a cop wanders by and Annie leaps out to distract him. The violent shootout and chase that follows is filmed on crowded streets (not a backlot or set), and the vertiginous perspective is not for those prone to motion sickness, making the audience accomplice to the crime. The cinematography is beautifully rendered in black and white and often tracks and moves with the action as it speeds towards the last fatal shot.
Annie murders during their crime spree and relishes in the godlike powers of taking life while Bart diminishes into emotional obscurity. Finally, trapped in the woods of his hometown, Annie is ready to shoot her way out and escape…but Bart breaks one vow while upholding another: till death to us part.
Final Grade: (B+)