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Philip Raven (Alan Ladd) is a gun for hire. He lives alone in a small room
and gives milk to a lonely cat every morning. But he doesn't seem to
appreciate the company of humans. He never smiles and he won't trust
anybody. He is asked by Willard Gates to kill a man and steal documents
from him. After Gates paid Raven with hot money, Raven decided to find Gates
to settle a score with him. In the meanwhile, a cabaret performer Ellen
Graham (Veronica Lake), the girl friend of a Police lieutenant, is secretly
charged by a senator to infiltrate a company Nitro that is suspected to
sell army secrets to the Japanese. For this, she goes to an audition to be
hired by Willard Gates, owner of a cabaret, but also an employee of Nitro.
In the train on her way to Los Angeles, Ellen Graham meets Philip Raven,
both unaware that they are involved in the same case. When they arrive in
Los Angeles, the Police is after him and he has to kidnap Ellen to get away
from it. Realizing they have the same enemy Ellen convinces Raven to forget
his own interest and start to fight the people of Nitro in the interest of
This is the first Alan Ladd Veronica Lake movie but it is also probably the best. The plot, the acting, the dialogue and the direction are so great that these make This gun for hire' a classic film noir. At the beginning, the credits mention: introducing Alan Ladd. For his first leading role, the least we can say is that Ladd gives a great performance. It is obvious that his character inspired the character of Jeff in Le samourai' by Jean-Pierre Melville with Alain Delon. Both characters have the same attitude and the same clothes. They live alone a small room. They never get involve in any relationship and both are very professional. They are only kind to animals and children (in `Le samourai', Delon had a bird in his room). Also, the sequence on the pedestrian bridge of the railroad has clearly its equivalent in Le Samourai'. I was really impressed by the first sequence, when Ladd execute his contract and also by the sequence where Ladd and Lake are running across the city to escape from the Police (which is much of the movie). How breath-taking! This is truly great cinema, quiet a good surprise for a director (Frank Tuttle) who is not that well known. I've seen The Blue Dahlia', `the Glass key' and `this gun for hire' these last three days (film noir retrospective in Oak Street Cinema, Minneapolis) in this order (reverse of the chronological one) but I must say that the quality increase in this order. This gun for hire' is much darker and less funny than the movie they made together after that but it is a better film noir. Definitely a masterpiece. High recommended 9/10.
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.
Frank Tuttle is one of those directors (like William Seiter) who is not
consistently good, but who could do a terrific job now and then that
retains our admiration. Seiter directed Laurel & Hardy in their best
feature film, THE SONS OF THE DESERT (and turned in an above average
job with the Marx Brothers in ROOM SERVICE). Tuttle did this film noir
classic, and did it well. Based on a novel (or, as the author called
it, an "entertainment") by Graham Greene, Tuttle made a star of Alan
Ladd, and created the first of a series of films co-starring Ladd and
Veronica Lake (as his cool, opposite number). He was ably abetted by a
good cast of character actors: Laird Cregar, Tully Marshall, Robert
Preston (at the start of his career), Marc Lawrence.... It was a
terrific little thriller.
Laird Cregar's Willard Gates is one of the funniest neurotics in film noir. An overweight lady's man, he seems to go in both directions: using his money and nightclub to pick up women, and yet being a trembling tub of lard who enjoys reading "Naughty Paris at Night" while eating a box of chocolates in his private bedroom on his train. Cregar's Gates is augmented by his chauffeur - bodyguard - factotum Tommy, who has a wicked sense of ghoulish humor, and is able to make his queasy boss go nuts with fear just by describing a possible method of getting rid of Lake's prospectively dead body tied with cat gut that would disintegrate in a month (allowing her body to rise in a river, and leave her death a mystery. "Cat gut, what a horrible word!", quivers Gates. Marvelous - just look at Lawrence's grin as he speaks. He knows what he's doing.
The novel is a peculiar problem, not too frequently mentioned in discussing the film. It was set in 1935 in the midlands of England. At the beginning Raven is shown going to the office of a man who turns out to be Europe's leading peace advocate. He comes in using a letter from an unknown person. The peace advocate is happy at the recognition given to him by the letter's author and sits down to read it. In a moment Raven kills the man and then his secretary (who is a witness). This is changed in the movie to the murder of Baker, a blackmailer, and his girlfriend by Raven. The letter is from an important industrialist and munition dealer - Sir Marcus. His associate is the middle man between Sir Marcus and Raven, as Gates is in the film. But it is not in southern California in 1942 (and not dealing with treason with Japan). Instead Greene's villain is planning to help cause a new European War, for his profit.
Who is Sir Marcus? How is he different from the industrialist played by Tully Marshall? Marshall is a traitor for profit working for the Japanese Empire. Sir Marcus was Jewish.
Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh were the two greatest English Catholic novelists of the twentieth century, but in different ways. Greene's novels dealt with the issues of good and evil in us all, usually told in stories of crime or spies. Waugh wrote of a fading Catholic English aristocracy, and had a masterful sense of comedy. They complement each other as writers. Both were deserving of Nobel Prize recognition, and both failed to achieve it. Other Englishmen did get the prize (Shaw, William Golding), but they never did - though repeatedly they were recommended for it. The possible reason was their open anti-Semitism. Waugh's novels are full of Jewish stereotypes, like Augustus Fagin in DECLINE AND FALL. Greene did the same, with Sir Marcus and Colleoni in BRIGHTON ROCK. The only difference is that Greene (in later years) edited out the anti-Jewish sentiments in the novels. But if you get the original novel you have Raven (a murderer-for-hire, mind you) telling off Sir Marcus about his ancestry before shooting him. The screenplay keeps to the storyline, with the American and non-religious changes. It was all to the good, but we all should be aware of Greene's religious bigotry.
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.
This is a straight-forward, linear, quick-moving story based on a much more
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.
This is definitely an enjoyable film to watch. It starts out like
gangbusters with great film noir qualities having the trajectory of a
bona fide classic. Alan Ladd is superb as the cold-blooded killing man
for hire and Laird Cregor - who unfortunately was to die at 30 only two
years after this film - is equally superb in his role. The film misses
the mark, however, when the patriotic aspects of World War II (then a
current event) are used in the end to appeal to the conscious of the
cold-blooded killing Ladd. For a character of Ladd's ilk to be won over
on such a near-corny patriotic appeal is a bit of a stretch, and takes
away from the true grit realism of the movie's potential. Sort of
reminds me of all the romance and self-righteousness that frequently is
the focus of movies or intellectual discussions of the U. S. Civil War,
rather than simply telling the true plain cold-blooded reasons for its
initiation and declaration, regardless of how evil, and immoral the
facts. But alas, Hollywood is about entertainment, not necessarily
realism. And, we can't forget the near-mandatory Studio happy-ending
On a lighter note, those with an ear for a good tune with their flicks will enjoy two Frank Loesser compositions in the film, particularly "Now you see it, Now you don't," where Veronica Lake does an excellent job lip-synching Martha Mears' vocal.
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
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.
one of the things that can make a film noir great is the ability to, at each turn, make the audience think that things are going to turn out okay, and then slam the door in its face. this film is able to do just that. alan ladd doesn't get the lead billing (that honor goes to lake and preston), but make not mistake - he is the star of the film. he plays a loner hit-man and we pick up the action just before he's set to do a job. he holds up his end of the bargain, but the man who hired him pays him in marked bills in an attempt to pin a robbery on him. ladd goes on the lam, but runs into the girlfriend (lake) of a cop (preston) who is after him for having passed one of the marked bills. little does ladd, or even preston, know, but lake has been enlisted by the government to do some investigative work on the man who paid ladd for the hit with the marked dough. it's quite a criss-crossed story, but it's all very easy to follow and very fun to watch while it unfolds. lake is sworn to secrecy because of the sensitive nature of her investigation, and she has no idea that the man she meets on the train (ladd) is the same man her boyfriend is pursuing. it's not as dark a noir as detour, but the ending is surprisingly affecting and certainly dark enough to qualify as a noir. the lighting is more subtle than it is in some noir and i made a note of looking into the cinematographer on this film. my hunch was right - john seitz did the cinematography for this and such films as invaders from mars, sunset blvd., double indemnity, sullivan's travels, and big clock. it's a crime that i've never heard of the guy. but i redeemed myself by finally looking into his work after watching this film. with sunset blvd and double indemnity i probably attributed the good lighting and camera work to billy wilder and the same is true for sullivan's travels and preston sturges. at any rate, this is a good film - ladd and lake do a good job, preston is capable; the cinematography is good even though it doesn't knock you over the head with its brilliance; and the story is well-constructed despite being a little far-fetched in places. B+.
Phillip Raven (Alan Ladd) is a hit-man hired by Willard Gates (Laird
Cregar) to execute the blackmailer Albert Baker (Frank Ferguson) and
retrieve a letter and some documents for his unknown boss. When the
work is done, Raven is double-crossed by Gates, receiving marked ten
dollar bills. Gates delivers the list with the serial number of the
bills to the police, expecting they find and kill Raven. Meanwhile, the
performer Ellen Graham (Veronika Lake), who is the fiancée of the L.A
Detective Lieutenant Michael Crane (Robert Preston), is contacted by
Senator Burnett (Roger Imhof) and asked to help investigating Gates.
She accepts the invitation, and is hired by Gates to work in his
private club in Los Angeles. The police force, leaded by Det. Crane,
chases Raven for the death of Baker; Raven chases Gates and his unknown
boss, expecting to kill them for their betrayal; Ellen secretly chases
Gates for the government. This is the beginning of a great classic.
Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake have fantastic performances in this movie.
Alan Ladd is magnificent in the role of a cold blood killer, needy of a
friend, that loves cats. In order to show the personality of his
character, there is a scene in the beginning of the story, where he
almost shoots a crippled girl to eliminate any possible witness of his
murder. Veronika Lake is wonderful and very gorgeous, inclusive singing
two songs. I disagree with the reference of film-noir for "This Gun For
Hire", since there is no "femme-fatale", no dirty cop, no weak man
(other than Gates) or sordid motivation. Indeed it is a police story,
showing a cold-blood hit-man without compassion, capable of killing
without showing any emotion, hunting "worse guys" looking for his
personal vengeance. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Alma Torturada" ("Tortured Soul")
Two of the most beautiful actors in film history, Alan Ladd and
Veronica Lake got together for the first time in this crime drama that
also launched the former's career; a combined fact that in itself is
enough to make this a must-see feature. Ladd is justly remembered as
the star of Shane, the classic George Stevens' revision on the Western
mythology, but his legacy remains overlooked beyond that great
achievement. He could be a fine performer, against the average public
opinion, and a film like This Gun for Hire proves his neglected status
as one of Film Noir's prime antiheroes.
As witty as she's a long-haired blonde, Miss Lake has a sexiness and a childlike casualness about her that only underline her smartness. Her character is neither a typically passionate nor a bitchy femme fatale, and it's kind of a relief that we see the Ladd's character through her eyes ultimately. I can't remember another female role in the genre -- or any noiresque role for that matter -- of such a personal balance and empathy.
This is a Graham Greene movie that somehow looks more a Dashiell Hammett one*. Greene's concern with morality puts things in motion as it would do in The Third Man and Our Man in Havana, both films directed by Carol Reed. Lake apparently plays the angelic symbol of redemption to the fallen angel of her captor, a reminder of the peculiar Catholicism the novelist professed.
* Next to This Gun for Hire, Ladd and Lake did make a Hammett film: The Glass Key (1942).
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