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William D. Russell
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>
This is a great, compelling crime thriller that stands the test of time quite well. This would be one of the first movies I'd choose to show to a fan of recent movies who wants to explore classic thrillers but doesn't know where to start (along with "The Maltese Falcon" and one or two others). While many period pieces are "appreciated", this one still provides a jolt of adrenaline right from the opening scene, when Alan Ladd rips the maid's dress and slaps her. He's a bad man, no doubt about it, and his portrayal throughout most of the movie is surprisingly dark, even by today's standards. His character, Raven, is a man whose sole act of human compassion is not to murder a crippled orphan in cold blood, and Ladd's performance is underplayed just enough to make him chillingly believable.
This is a relatively early feature in the cycle that would later be called "film noir". A few films had begun to establish the new look and feel for the new generation of gangster movies, but the archetypal noirs were still a couple of years off. This movie is an interesting example of the early style because it visits the typical noir territory (culturally and emotionally) but avoids the stereotypical noir cast of characters. Rather than a flawed, weak man and a femme fatale, "This Gun For Hire" gives us a coldly amoral killer as the male lead and a tough, streetwise woman as the main "good guy" (her cop boyfriend spends most of the film running around frantically and accomplishing nothing).
Visually, this film is pure noir. It's directed by Frank Tuttle, who made the first version of "The Glass Key" in 1935, combining a hard-boiled gangster story and expressionist-influenced lighting. "This Gun For Hire" fits firmly into that mode, and shows that many of the stylistic trademarks of the supposedly "post-war" Noir style were firmly in place before the US had even been in WW2 for a full year. More importantly, it provides thrills, and a great dose of "the good stuff" in a neat, 81-minute-long package.
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