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Hit man Philip Raven, who's kind to children and cats, kills a blackmailer and is paid off by traitor Willard Gates in "hot" money. Meanwhile, pert entertainer Ellen Graham, girlfriend of police Lieut. Crane (who's after Raven) is enlisted by a Senate committee to help investigate Gates. Raven, seeking Gates for revenge, meets Ellen on the train; their relationship gradually evolves from that of killer and potential victim to an uneasy alliance against a common enemy. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
My first glimpse of this film was in "L.A. Confidential", where Kim Basinger, a Veronica Lake look-alike hooker (I'm totally in agreement with Russell Crowe's character when he comments that Basinger looks better than Veronica Lake), has the movie playing in the background during the train scene. Having finally watched the whole thing, I can easily see why Curtis Hansen and Brian Helgaland gave "This Gun For Hire" that respectful tip of the hat.
It is obvious that this was made during WWII from its references to the overseas menace, but I personally wouldn't let such politics get in the way of enjoying and understanding this movie. To do that, one must focus on the character of Raven (as played by Alan Ladd), a vicious, detached hitman with a soft spot for kids and cats...but no friends. He doesn't kill because it's fun for him; it's just a job. He does live by his own code, a major tenet of which is never to doublecross him. One thing that seems to sail right over people's heads is the fact that Raven is the product of an abused childhood. That such a defining bit made it to the screen (and that the abuser was female) should tell one how little audiences paid attention to such things, in spite of the fact that such were not and are still not isolated incidents.
Patriotism does not motivate Raven in the slightest, just his own self interest. The reason he eventually does what he does has more to do with Veronica Lake, probably the only friend he has ever truly had. I almost wonder if, in her, he sees the mother that he never truly had...but one can also write that one off as Freudian BS so make of it what you will. One thing that shouldn't be ignored, on the other hand, is the fact that, but for a lucky distraction, he would have plugged her to leave less of a trail. It's only when she refuses to hand him over to his enemies that their strange friendship really begins. All this makes Raven one of the most unromantic, unglamourous hard-boiled protagonists that have made it to screen.
Now, as to Ms. Lake, the thing that struck me about her was how unglamourous SHE was here. I don't mean that as an insult, mind, just that she seemed to share a characteristic with Kathrine Hepburn in that comparing her with the other sex goddesses of the time would be like comparing the moon to the sun. As is fitting with the story, she strikes one as being more motherly rather than gun moll material. Not that she can't bring the house down; her opening song-and-magic routine is one of the great all-time showstoppers. In fact, the only time I really had cause to hate her is when she gets into the arms of her cop fiancee and says "Hold me." at the end, but it's a minor complaint. Had there been a more radiant actress, the whole thing would have fallen apart. As it is, she fits perfectly.
Don't let the overt mobilization messages distract you. "This Gun For Hire" has a lot more on its mind that's still with us today.
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