Written and directed by Tony Garnett
Kathleen (Karen Young), a young woman from Boston moves to Dallas, Texas to persue her career as a high school history teacher. Making friends with the fellow teachers at the school, she is introduced to a dashing young lawyer named Larry (Clayton Day). Reluctant due to a recent break-up, she finally decides to go on a few dates with Larry but makes it clear she’s not persuing or interested in a deeper relationship at this time. Unfortunately, Larry doesn’t think the same way as she does and rapes her after threatening her with one of his many antique guns. After the police disuade her from taking the crime to court due to lack of evidence and her priest insisting she must pray for Larry and forgive, Kathleen decides to take matters into her own hands and dish out her own means of punishment.
HANDGUN is quite an interesting film. We have two characters – one, Larry, is a gun advocate who appears to be born and bred in the Southern state where it’s as natural to have guns in the house as it is to have tins in the cupboards. The other, Kathleen, is an innocent young woman from Boston where the’re limited availability of guns to civilians and obtaining one or merely being in the presence of a gun is a rare occurence. The guns in the movie play such a huge part, with the story incorporating them from the beginning where Larry teaches and displays some weapons from his own collection, explaining how a gun can keep the peace, win wars and change lives. Kathleen keeps her distance from firearms and is quite alien to the whole concept of being armed and feels like a fish out of water in a town where possessing a gun is the norm. When she is eventually attacked by Larry after many dates, it is not only the shock of the rape, but the introduction of a gun that hurts her. Terrified by what could happen if she tries to escape whilst Larry is armed, Kathleen is humiliated as well as being attacked, and subsequently undergoes a change after having her innocence and naivety shattered by this traumatic act.
What is sad is how the police in the movie, and the law at that time, perceived as an unwinnable case. Due to Kathleen dating Larry, the law sort of implies that Larry had a right to have sex with her and that despite her protests and objections to coitus, she had practically consented by ‘dating’ him. This aspect is one of the most disturbing things in the film, that a society can think this way. The film then shifts in focus a la I Spit On Your Grave, where Kathleen cleverly seeks revenge against her attacker. Don’t be expecting any carnage or bloody murderous acts of vengeance. Handgun is a smart movie and performs its acts of punishment in a clever, sophisticated way.
All-round great performances from the actors, in particular the two leads Karen Young and Claton Day, make Handgun an enjoyable watch. It’s a slow-burner but it doesn’t need to be high-intense action and the gradual build-up works to its advantage as we see Kathleen transform.
Network Distributing have released Handgun for the first time on DVD as part of their British Film Collection, as although the film is a Texan thriller, it’s directed by British filmmaker Tony Garnett. A recommended watch.