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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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This is a straight-forward, linear, quick-moving story based on a much more interesting book. But it's still an entertaining movie, and probably close to required viewing if you enjoy noir and/or Forties movies.
Raven (Alan Ladd) is a hired killer, evidently without remorse or nerves, who is paid to knock off a blackmailer. The blackmailer was trying to take to the cleaners a corrupt industrialist who was coincidentally helping the enemy. (This is during WWII.) However, Raven is paid in counterfeit bills on the assumption the police will catch him when he spends the money. He discovers the plot and decides to take out the guy who hired him and the fellow, the industrialist, who was behind it all.
The movie bills Veronica Lake and Robert Preston above the title, Laird Cregar just below the title, and Alan Ladd last in big type as "Introducing Alan Ladd." Some introduction; according to IMDb, Ladd had already appeared in more than 40 films in unbilled and minor parts.
This was Ladd's breakthrough movie and he's very good in it. I don't think he was much of an actor, but he had a lot of star presence, especially in the movies he made in the Forties. There was always something passive but potentially dangerous about him. His looks could have kept him in the pretty boy category, but for whatever reason didn't. Veronica Lake, for me, is something of an acquired taste, but for whatever reason she and Ladd made an effective pairing that was repeated several times. Laird Cregar played the heavy, and he was an interesting actor. Big and fleshy, he was something of a Raymond Burr type but more versatile. Robert Preston is seldom mentioned in regard to this movie and this must have ticked him off. Here's a guy who usually played best friend of the lead, gets a good part as the lead in a solid movie -- and winds up being over-shadowed by Ladd.
The first five minutes or so of the movie are among the most efficient I've come across in establishing a major player's character and complexities. We first see Raven waking up in his rented rooms and checking the clock. Nothing out of the ordinary there. In very short order, however, he's taken a gun out, helped a stray kitten get into his room and given it some food, slapped hard and full in the face a maid who tried to kick out the cat, showed up at the blackmailer's place where he meets the blackmailer (who was supposed to be alone); the blackmailer has his "secretary" with him so he just kills them both; on the way out a little girl on the stairs asks him to get her ball which has rolled away; she sees his face, he obviously thinks about shooting her, too -- but gets the ball for her and leaves. In just a few minutes Raven's cold ruthlessness and his conflicts are established, and so is a sort of sympathy for him. These first few minutes, in my view, are what make the movie work.
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