on 30 August 2004
Shocking blonde Veronica Lake with the famous peek-a-boo hairdo covering her right eye and the equally diminutive Alan Ladd were Paramount's version of Warner's Bogart & Bacall. The poor man's Bogie & Bacall, as it were.
'This Gun for Hire', based on the Graham Greene classic 'A Gun for Sale', was always a favourite film noir of mine, even though Hollywood tried to make Greene's anti-hero more palatable by changing his hare-lip into a deformed wrist. It is still quite an astonishingly desillusioned look at society and man's chances at survival, and the film easily holds up with the greatest of Warner's classics of the time. This new (and first) DVD edition lovingly recreates the gorgeous B&W cinematography with wonderful texture to make the rain-wet streets and the chiaroscuro sink in.
Obviously, 'This Gun for Hire' is somewhat influenced by the fact that it was made during WW2, but the patriotism never takes the upper hand, as could have been feared. Ladd made his debut as the soft-spoken, tender killer with a soft spot for kittens, and Lake exudes Hollywood glamour times 100 as the cop girlfriend who helps out.
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.
This Gun for Hire is famous as the film that launched Alan Ladd's career, but - in the extensive literature covering the film noir era - is not considered one of the top notch examples of the genre. I think this is unfair.
Unlike many more famous noirs (honourable exceptions here are The Killers and Double Indemnity), This Gun for Hire does not have an utterly incomprehensible plot, best ignored in favour of witty characters and effective lighting. Alan Ladd - as killer Philip Raven - is simply after revenge on the people who have double crossed him and, as such, he is reminiscent of Lee Marvin in the astonishing Point Blank. He is implacable and remorseless - unsmiling and laconic. In short, he's great. Star power pulses out of every frame. The opening sequence is rightly acclaimed and - second to The Killers - I think it is the best opening in noir. Raven is utterly unsympathetic - he slaps the maid around - but controlled and compelling. (And this thing was made in 1942!)
The only clunking piece of plot is when Raven happens to bump into Veronica lake on a train to LA as she is already involved with the men who have double crossed the killer. Lake was a strange actress and this is a strange character - dressed in a 'fishing' outfit for one of the two songs (she's a cabaret singer) that is so fetishist, it has to be seen to be believed - but she 'works' in this film and not just because she was short enough to pley with Ladd without him needing a box to stand on. Laird Cregar, as the baddie Gates - is astonishing. He's twenty-six. Watch the tilm and try and convince yourself of that. It's just another point of interest in this remarkable film.
Ultimately the reason this film is still available on DVD, nearly seventy years after it was made, is Alan Ladd's portrayal of Raven. It is one of the great film portrayals and was rightly 'homaged' by Alain Delon in Le Samourai. This film is not expensive, so buy it. It bears repeated viewing.
Phillip Raven is a hit man of no obvious moral fibre, he literally will kill anyone for the right price. After fulfilling a contract for the chocolate munching Willard Gates, he finds himself pursued by the law on account that he was paid by Gates with stolen money. Raven sets out for the ultimate revenge and dovetailing towards the explosive finale with him is sultry conjurer Ellen Graham and honest cop Michael Crane.
Based on the Graham Greene novel A Gun for Sale, this is not a straight out adaptation, the plot has been re-jigged with very impressive results. The most enlightening thing I found when reading up on the film was that the studio were so blown away by the efforts of Alan Ladd as Raven, they turned the script around to make him the film's chief axis, and boy what a smart move that was for this is Alan Ladd's show all the way.
Ladd plays Raven with brilliant icy veneer, he's cold and devoid of emotion, his only trip to anything resembling caring is an affinity to cats because in his own words, "cats don't need anyone, they are on their own, just like me", the result is one of the most unnerving killers put on to the 40s cinema screens. Veronica Lake is the stunning female of the piece, she glides through the picture with ease as Ellen, a character with her own issues, but thankfully she's integral outside of any sort of romantic plot, even though she is the only one who gets close enough to Raven to learn anything about what makes him tick. Robert Preston as Michael Crane was to be the film's focus but he becomes a mere side part thanks to Ladd's barnstorming show, and Laird Cregar is suitably shifty as Gates.
It's a fine film in its own right, it's tightly filmed, wonderfully scripted and contains a great noir ending, but ultimately it's all about the cold as death hit-man Raven, and the great performance by the man who played him. 8.5/10
"This Gun for Hire," (1942) is an 80 minute, black and white, early proto-film noir based on a crime drama/thriller by much honored twentieth century English author/screen writer Graham Greene (The Third Man (Special Edition) [DVD] , The End of The Affair [DVD]). It is billed as Alan Ladd's first film, so it must be his first co-starrer with Veronica Lake. Robert Preston and Laird Cregar round out the cast.
As written for the screen by Albert Maltz, and directed by Frank Tuttle, it tells the story of hired killer Philip Raven, who shoots a blackmailer and his beautiful female companion dead, but is paid off in marked bills by his treasonous employer who is working with foreign spies. Greene set this early-career mystery/ thriller in his native United Kingdom, in the years before World War II; but this is a Hollywood production, of course. So it has been moved to California, which, film noir experts insist, is the only setting in which current-day full-color film noir can succeed. Said film noir experts also insist that, while this film foreshadows film noir, in its use of black and white deep focus, industrial backgrounds, and shadows, it is not actually a film noir: don't ask me why not, as I can't quite follow their reasoning.) At any rate, screenwriter Maltz, who was later to be blacklisted for his Communist affiliations, and, I imagine, with good reason, has moved it to the actual war years, and given it an odd kind of pinko/patriotic bath.
Alan Ladd (Shane [DVD] ) plays Raven. In Greene's book, Raven's face bears a badly-sewn harelip that I imagine was meant to serve as a sign of Cain. Hollywood - and Ladd too, I'm sure--would have none of that; so Raven is handsome here. Lake (Sullivan's Travels [DVD])plays Ellen Graham, pretty entertainer - she's given a couple of silly songs to lip synch to Martha Mears' vocals, lyrics by Frank Loesser - no less--that stop the movie cold. Did all female stars have to be nightclub singers and given songs at the time? At any rate, Graham has been recruited by a senator to probe the suspected illegal activities of Raven's employer. Graham and Raven meet on the train from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and after early suspicion, discover they have a mutual enemy in Willard Gates, the part played by Laird Cregar(Fox Horror Classics Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]). Yvonne De Carlo and Virginia Farmer show up in uncredited parts. Robert Preston (Music Man [Blu-ray] [US Import]), surely the wrong man for the job no matter how you look at it, plays Detective Michael Crane, Graham's boyfriend, and the cop who's after Raven. Complications, you may be sure, ensue, though they're sure not the complications Greene had in mind.
Graham Greene (1904-1991) was one of the most illustrious British writers of the 20th century. He enjoyed a very long life, most of the century, and a very long, prolific writing career. I've read somewhere that 56% of Greene's works were made into notable films, many of them more than once. The writer was also one of the better-known Catholic converts of his time; many of his thrillers, as this one, deal with Catholic themes of guilt and redemption. He created vivid characters with internal lives on the most fraught of the world's stages; his characters faced struggles and doubt. Sometimes his characters despaired, or suffered world-weary cynicism - they were always self-aware. But Greene always created a tight thriller, in a lean, realistic style that boasted almost cinematic visuals. This film's cast might be considered a dream one for a film noir, or whatever, and can, of course, never be duplicated, so I doubt a remake of this is in the cards. But whatever..
on 17 March 2015
This DVD involves the pairing up for the first time of the actress veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, they only made about four films then whent their separate ways, him to bigger and better things but she just disappeared.
on 22 December 2015
Alan Ladd (Raven) is a hired killer who carries out a job but is double crossed by his peppermint-munching businessman boss Laird Cregar (Gates). Once Ladd discovers the betrayal, he is determined to get even not only with Cregar but also with the man at the top Tully Marshall (Brewster). Meanwhile, magician singer Veronica Lake (Ellen) is on a secret assignment to spy on Cregar as he has come under suspicion from the US government of selling secrets to the enemy. She is charged with getting the dirt on him. Ladd and Lake stumble across each other and an unlikely alliance is formed. Lake has a boyfriend Robert Preston (Michael) who is a police officer and who is also involved in the chase but in a separate capacity.
First of all, Alan Ladd should be credited with the lead role. Robert Preston - I don’t think so!! The cast are uniformly good, in fact, Lake and Ladd are above average and Cregar is excellent as always. I’m not an Alan Ladd fan but this is definitely the best role I have seen him in so far. We see that Ladd has kind traits and the film touches on the psychology behind his character and so he is a likable bad guy. And the chemistry that he has with Veronica Lake definitely works. You’ll be hoping they get together romantically by the end of the film. The film is stylishly shot and Lake gets to sing a couple of entertaining songs. The film is better than I thought it would turn out to be, especially after already seeing Ladd and Lake in “The Glass Key” and “The Blue Dahlia”. This film is much better than those offerings.
This 1942 "film noir" is a very good watch which mostly didn't age much - even if it was somehow hurt by the inclusion of the completely unnecessary elements about foreign spies involvement. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
In wartime San Francisco an extremely dangerous hit man called Raven (Alan Ladd) wakes up and gets ready for a "job" he is supposed to do - but before even cleaning his gun he first feeds his kitten... The same day a certain Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) hires a new singer for his highly renowned nightclub Neptune - but this gorgeous young woman, Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) has also an agenda of her own... And then the film begins.
This film is an adaptation of Graham Green 1936 novel "Gun for sale". The title and the name of the main character promise a lot and this thing delivers! "This gun for hire" and "Raven" - it doesn't get much cooler than that!
The success of this film is build on excellent, memorable performance by the leading actors.
Alan Ladd was in this time still a little fish in the great Hollywood pond and he was actually credited only fourth, after Lake, Cregar and Robert Preston, who plays here a police officer. However after this film he instantly became a major star and very deservedly so, because his interpretation of Raven is PERFECT!
To the best of my knowledge "This gun for hire " is probably the first Hollywood film build around the character of a hit man. Raven is not some kind of tragically misunderstood guy who questions himself about his life - he is without a shadow of doubt an accomplished and remorseless multiple murderer, who took his first life at tender age of 14, liked it and therefore decided to make a living out of killing. Even more shocking, considering that this film was made in 1942, his victims include police officers and even women - he certainly has no problem with walking a young lady to an abandoned building where he intends to shoot her in the back of the head...
Even more frightening thing about Raven is that once he is after somebody he WILL get him/her, without caring all that much about his own survival - oh, sure, if needs be he will escape from danger and save himself (and he is GOOD at that) but all this just to fight another day and pursue his target to the end of the world if necessary.
Aged barely 20 Veronica Lake was in this time a recently revealed star, who had her big break only the previous year in "I wanted wings". 1942 was kind of "Veronica Lake Year" in Hollywood, because other than "This gun for hire" - which was a huge success - she also played in two other famous films "Glass key" and especially the legendary "I married a witch". In this film she plays an absolutely adorable night club entertainer who mixes singing with magic tricks (and she is GOOD at it).
Veronica Lake was not the most beautiful woman who ever lived - that title belongs to my wife - but in any such contest in which I would be the judge she would certainly make the Top 5. In this film she is at her most gorgeous, deploying a unique kind of charm and frequently eclipsing everything else on the screen with her "petite" figure - she measured a grand total of five foot and a whisper. One reason for this display of incredible, merry, joyful, warm charm may be that she was a young mother - she gave birth to her first daughter barely half a year before.
Notwithstanding all the mean things Raymond Chandler later said about her (he famously nicknamed her "Moronica", probably out of spite because, being a married woman, she rejected firmly his advances) that girl COULD act! The great chemistry between Ladd and Lake is immediate from the first scene and they were later paired - quite successfully - in three more films ("Glass key", "The blue dahlia" and "Saigon").
In this film Raven finds himself in a very tight spot and Ellen Graham becomes, very unwillingly, his travelling buddy - and also a kind of human shield... He should in principle kill her once she outlived her usefulness - but even for him killing such a woman is not all that easy. She on another hand, although engaged to a tough police lieutenant whom she really loves, finds herself attracted to her abductor, which is understandable. Raven is extremely handsome, strong in body and mind, very mysterious, very dark, incredibly dangerous and smells of blood and brimstone - and he has her in his absolute power... How can a gal resist something like that?
Laird Cregar who plays the shadowy middle-man Gates and Robert Preston who portrays Ellen's fiancée, Lieutenant Michael Crane, a tough but rigorously honest police officer, do their job perfectly - but of course they are put into the shadows by the leading actors.
This film could have been a masterpiece if, because of war time necessities, the producers didn't request the inclusion of some foreign spies and especially of a patriotic speech. Now, I am very sincerely all in favour of patriotism on screen and everywhere else, but it should be presented with skill and taste - and here it is not the case. Thanks God this weak moment takes only a very small amount of time.
Bottom line, this is a GREAT "film noir" and a genuine pleasure to watch, with one extremely dark character and one incredibly beautiful and talented actress, whom it would be a delight to see even in a commercial for adult diapers. Enjoy!
on 4 May 2013
its an ok movie, and I love the old Alan Ladd films. I found that my main dislike was that the setting of the Graham Green novel had been changed to the U.S.A. It should have been set in the U.K. with British actors such as Trevor Howard, Stewart Granger
on 16 July 2013
Firstly just to say thanks to Zoverstocks for a very good service,even though the dvd is used the quality is excellent ,i will have no problems buying again .About the movie itself at times i found it a little amateurish,i thought robert preston was miscast ,overall it was watchable but no great film noir.