wed 21/10/2020

Blu-ray: This Gun for Hire | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: This Gun for Hire

Blu-ray: This Gun for Hire

The patchy film noir that made Alan Ladd a screen phenomenon

Blond harmony: Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in 'This Gun for Hire'.Paramount Pictures

The 1942 thriller This Gun for Hire, which opened five months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was closely adapted from Graham Greene’s 1936 novel A Gun for Sale by Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett and directed for Paramount by the veteran William Tuttle. Though no masterpiece, it's a film noir landmark – an essential watch.

The 1942 thriller This Gun for Hire, which opened five months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was closely adapted from Graham Greene’s 1936 novel A Gun for Sale by Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett and directed for Paramount by the veteran William Tuttle. Though no masterpiece, it's a film noir landmark – an essential watch.

Noir style wasn’t yet fully established, but there are glimmerings of them here in cinematographer John Seitz’s low-key lighting and Hans Dreier’s disorienting sets. The film’s fatalistic tone was marred by touches of comedy, a near-Gothic interlude in a Los Angeles mansion, and – especially objectionable to Greene – the imposition on his bleak story of a singing girl magician.

The movie holds its place in Hollywood history, however, as the one that made Alan Ladd a star and paired him for the first time with Veronica Lake. Ladd was fourth-billed behind Lake, Robert Preston, and Laird Cregar, but his Philip Raven dominates the picture as its anti-hero, a lethal hitman in search of redemption.

Blu-ray: This Gun for HireFirst seen slapping around his cleaning woman, this flinty fallen angel in trench coat and fedora is gradually humanized – as the Australian film scholar Adrian Martin explains in his superlative audio commentary – by his affinity for cats and the empathy of Lake’s droll Ellen Graham. Briefly baring the grief and angst burning beneath his affectless demeanour, Raven even casts Ellen as his psychoanalyst as he recalls the childhood trauma that made him a cold killer.

Tuttle realized something special was happening and had Seitz frequently photograph his beautiful leads together. They made visual magic – two slender, pint-sized blonds, cooler than any male-female movie duo since – and went on to star together six more times, notably in The Glass Key (1942) and The Blue Dahlia (1946).

Paid in fake bills by the oily chemical company executive and showbiz entrepreneur (Cregar, wonderfully craven) who hired him for a hit, Raven takes a train from San Francisco to L.A. to get revenge. En route, he encounters Ellen – the singing magician, herself hired by Gates – who’s working as an undercover government agent.

Pursued by Ellen’s weakly characterized cop fiancé (Preston), Raven learns from the her that Gates and his decrepit tycoon boss (Tully Marshall) are supplying Japan with a poisonous gas to be used against America in the war. The chase unfolds in atmospheric real locations – a derelict house, an industrial plant, a railyard – but nothing's so memorable as the hard-boiled harmony of Ladd and Lake.

Ladd and Lake made visual magic – two slender, pint-sized blonds, cooler than any male-female movie duo since

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters