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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>
The film that launched Alan Ladd's career, This Gun For Hire is a very short film like the earlier Public Enemy which gave James Cagney his stardom. This would be the normal length of a B film, but it definitely gets all it wants to say in its brief running time.
Essentially we have three stories where all the principal players get brought together in the end. The first involves Robert Preston investigating a reported payroll robbery of the firm that Tully Marshall is the president of. Note that I said 'reported robbery.' The second involves his girl friend, entertainer Veronica Lake being recruited by no one less than a United States Senator to get the goods on one of Marshall's top aides, Laird Cregar who they think is doing some fifth column work at the behest of Marshall. Finally we have contract killer Alan Ladd who's hired by Cregar to bump off Frank Ferguson who is blackmailing Marshall as to his treasonous activities. Preston, Ladd, and Lake don't know they are all on the same case, but by the end of the film they do.
Alan Ladd became Paramount's answer to Humphrey Bogart as a star of action/adventure films and noir films. This Gun for Hire launched his career. He was enormously popular through the Forties, Paramount's biggest star after Crosby and Hope. He played cynical tough guys in modern films, but then branched into westerns where for the most part he was the gallant hero. In fact the ultimate gallant white knight hero in Shane.
His part as Raven is a difficult one, yet he pulls it off. He's a cold blooded contract killer, one of the earliest ever portrayed as a film protagonist. Yet he's human and you see flashes of it, his concern for cats. As a cat lover, I can sure identify with that. Raven is also one of the earliest characters in cinema who talks about child abuse making him what he is. Groundbreaking when you think about it.
Next to Ladd, the biggest kudos have to go to Laird Cregar, borrowed from 20th Century Fox to play Willard Gates. Gates is a top company executive with Marshall's firm which is a defense contractor which is why the Senate is interested in him. He's basically a jerk who thinks he's so clever. Veronica Lake gets to him real easy because of his weakness for the nightclub scene. And he really doesn't take the full measure of Raven, even though the audience is very aware of how deadly he is.
When you think about it what Cregar and Marshall do is unbelievably stupid. They hire Ladd to kill Ferguson and then pay him with hot money, from the alleged robbery. Why would you do that? Chances are in the rackets they're involved in, they might have need of his services in the future. Not a guy to get mad at you. In fact their double cross is what sets the whole film plot in motion.
Moral is never double cross a guy who says and means that "I'm my own police."
This Gun for Hire was Director Frank Tuttle's finest film. He was a contract director for Paramount who did a whole bunch of films with their various stars in the Thirties and Forties. When he hadn't worked in a while, Alan Ladd got him a job directing him in Hell On Frisco Bay while he was at Warner Brothers and Tuttle also directed A Cry In the Night which Ladd produced. Ladd remembered and was grateful to Tuttle for helping break through into top star ranks. Ladd was like John Wayne that way, ever ready to help a colleague down on his luck.
Veronica Lake is recruited by a U.S. Senator with a fictitious name, but in fact there was a committee looking into all kinds of things like this in the Senate in regard to the conduct of the war. It was headed by a Senator from Missouri named Harry Truman who went on to higher office. I wonder if Truman liked This Gun for Hire? Veronica Lake got a big boost in her career. She and Ladd became a classic screen team as a result of this film.
This film is one great cinematic classic, so important to so many careers and still keeps you on the edge of your seat today.
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