13 June 2003 | Vornoff-3
Revisionist Criminal History for Hooverites
`Guns Don't Argue' is essentially a docu-drama about the war against crime in the 20's and 30's, with particular emphasis on the role of the FBI in that process. It is very much pro-Hoover, pro-law-enforcement, and anti-criminal, and is also quite heavy-handed (often laughably so) in its narration and its portrayals of the criminal element. While offering an interesting counter-point to such romanticisations of the outlaw as Arthur Penn's `Bonnie and Clyde', this movie simply goes TOO far in the opposite direction, to the detriment of what real history it presents.
The worst revisionist moments are in the portrayals of the executions of John Dillinger and of Bonnie and Clyde (interestingly, consistently called `Clyde and Bonnie' in this picture). In reality, each was gunned down maliciously by lawmen who gave no warnings, having set up fool-proof ambushes and using patsies to bait their prey. The vigillantism of law enforcement officials in these days is a legacy America still must live down. In `Guns Don't Argue,' however, Bonnie, Clyde and Dillinger are somehow able to get off the first shots, and the implication is presented that they were given ample opportunity to surrender. Also notably lacking is any sense of the popularity of bank robbers among the American masses, especially after the stock market crash. Dillinger, particularly, was regarded with considerable reverence in the 30's, not the abject fear that this film suggests.
In another interesting twist on history (although a more informed criminal historian will have to bring out the true story), Lyle Talbot takes on a role out of Ed Wood's `Jail Bait' (1954) and is forced to perform plastic surgery on gangster Al Karpis at gunpoint. Those who have seen Ed's original will agree - his `surprise ending' was more effective than this rip-off's.
The best sequence of this movie, however, is that of the vicious `Ma' Barker' and her brood. The little old lady with a Tommy-gun is somehow the most powerful image of the film. The film is quick to point out that the only reason Barker's family attended church was because it helped them avoid jail sentences, of course. Ma' does spend a good deal of screen time in the kitchen, however, reminding us that 50's values cross race, class and even legal lines.