MacKINLEY KANTOR “Gun Crazy.” Short story. First published in The Saturday Evening Post, February 3, 1940. Collected in Author’s Choice (Coward McCann, 1944). Reprinted in Best American Noir of the Century, edited by James Ellroy & Otto Penzler (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Film: United Artists, 1950, with Peggy Cummins & John Dall; directed by Joseph H. Lewis.

   Every fan of film noir, even if they’ve haven’t managed to see the movie based on this short story by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist MacKinley Kantor, is certainly well aware of it. Not many films of its genre have, after all, been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The short story itself? Not so many have even heard of it.

   The story follows its main protagonist, Nelson Tare, from the time he and his family move into the small town of Elm City. He was very young at the time, still talking baby talk. When the narrator of the story, about the same age as Nelly at the time, asks him if he wants to play, his answer is “Dot any duns?”

   Translation: “Have you got any guns?”

   The young kid is obsessed with guns, all through life. The story veers from the movie — or maybe that should be the other way around — in that in the movie both he and his female partner in robbing banks and other crimes (sharpshooting Antoinette McReady, aka Ruth Riley in the story) are the primary focus of the film, while in MacKinley Kantor’s version, her role is restricted to just over a couple of pages.

   That doesn’t stop the story from being one of the darker tales I can imagine ever published in the family-oriented Saturday Evening Post. You can’t read this one without sitting on the edge of your seat the entire time it takes to read it. I always thought that was an overused cliché, but this is one time I found it to be true.