Boy meets revolver meets girl, la mort et l’amour "like guns and ammunition." The starting point is a small-town orphan astride his wooden horsie, elated by his air rifle yet dismayed by the effect it has on a baby chick. Back from the reformatory and the military ("It gets dull, nothing but teaching guys how to shoot"), the neurotic marksman (John Dall) visits the local carnival and runs into the pint-sized personification of killer instinct: The British sharpshooter (Peggy Cummins) who storms the frame with guns blazing, scans the audience and unloads straight into the camera’s eye. (Their onstage competition, culminating in a crown of matches lit one by one by ricocheting bullets, is virtually a live sex show.) Honeymoon’s over, the bride demands someone to "kick open the traces and win the world for me," there are stores to be knocked off. The lovers’ crime spree is midway between You Only Live Once and Bonnie and Clyde, Joseph H. Lewis charts it all with a perverse artisan’s dynamic glee, one wicked jolt after another. Pulp Freudianism is dispensed humorously, Dall polishes a pistol’s barrel while Cummins slides on her black stockings under a white bathrobe, the office matron who censures the heroine for donning slacks is last seen taking a blast to the face. Lewis’ freshness of invention is continuous, and continuously startling: In the most celebrated sequence, the camera rides in the back of the robbers’ car, hops over to the passenger’s seat to watch a nervous flirtation with a cop while a stickup unfolds inside a bank, then dollies in as they drive off for a close-up of Cummins’ euphoric visage—four unbroken minutes that left their mark on À Bout de Souffle and Bande à Part. "Let’s finish it the way we started it." The swamp fog in the oneiric climax suggests nothing so much as the smoke from two burned-out comets, the embodiment of outlaw passion flowing from trauma to mania to delirious sublimity. Cinematography by Russell Harlan. With Berry Kroeger, Morris Carnovsky, Anabel Shaw, Harry Lewis, and Russ Tamblyn. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce