This Gun for Hire (1942)


(via fan.tcm.com)

Veronica Lake is entertainer Ellen Graham, the girlfriend of a police lieutenant (Michael Crane, portrayed by Robert Preston). Ellen meets Alan Ladd’s hit man character Philip Raven while they’re both hunting down the common enemy of Willard Gates (Laird Cregar), for opposite sides of the law.

The relationship between Ladd and Lake’s characters shifts from killer and potential victim to not-quite-trustworthy allies as they search for Gates in this gritty noir drama.

This Gun For Hire is a very interesting film in that provokes sympathy for a character that would typically be seen as a villain. Philip Raven is not a good man by society’s standards. He may be kind to animals, but he kills for a living and as a result would usually be viewed by the audience as a wrong-doer, an outcast of society.

On the contrary, in this film he is treated as a protagonist. Ladd lends strong emotion to the role, which furthers the treatment of his character as an almost-hero despite the fact that he’s a contract killer. This unusual treatment of a usually disdain-worthy type of character is reason alone to watch the film.

Lake and Ladd: a match made in noir heaven (via midatlanticnostalgiaconvention.com)

All of the film’s performers do their job and do it well. Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake are the best of the bunch, emitting high tension and emotion in their roles.

I did feel while watching that Lake and her on-screen beau Preston were somewhat mismatched. Their early scenes, before Lake started hunting down Gates, are sweet but not enough to make the viewer root for them as a couple. Granted, the amount of screen time they have together is relatively small, giving the viewer little time to get to know them as a couple.

At the same time, their mediocre chemistry could have been purposeful, used as a tool to drum up even more support for Ladd’s character and the somewhat twisted Ellen/Raven pairing. Whether intentional or not, it does succeed in doing that – and if it was intentional, it was a pretty brilliant move on part of the casting team.

As far as plot, this is a pretty typical crime tale, with bad guys and good guys going after more bad guys, all wrapped up in a world of bad money and bad deeds. But typical doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyable. Though there aren’t any stand-out unexpected twists here, intrigue is added by the interactions between “good” and “evil” characters, as well as the quality of the performances.

This Gun for Hire is well worth watching as a solid early example of noir with an interesting and unexpected protagonist. The score: 3.5/5

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