Frank Tuttle’s This Gun For Hire (1942) is a watered down, glammed up version of Graham Greene’s gritty novel A Gun for Sale. The first of four cinematic outings teaming sultry Veronica Lake with the coolly handsome – if sinister - Alan Ladd, the story of a sympathetic gal falling for a cold-blooded assassin is a rather potent cocktail with a sadly undernourished final act.
Perhaps a tad heavy on sentimentality than most film noirs, the plot concerns professional hit man Philip Raven (Ladd). After having been double-crossed by ne’er-do-well, Willard Gates (Laird Cregar), Raven (Ladd) contemplates killing the innocent little girl who has seen him.
On the lam and with no one to trust, Raven meets Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) a nightclub performer with a cop boyfriend, Michael Crane (Robert Preston). Ellen is supposed to be working on exposing Alvin Brewster (Tully Marshall), a chemical company CEO who sold poisonous gas to the Japanese. But an odd relationship develops between Ellen and Raven. Freud would have a field day with these two. Raven ought to kill Ellen, but she wants to mother him. The compromise? Ellen becomes Raven’s willing captive.
If you know the conventions of film noir than you also know how this one wraps up. Raven corners Gates inside Brewster's high rise with Michael in hot pursuit. He's too late to stop Brewster, but manages to pump a few rounds into Gates before Michael shoots him and apprehends Brewster. Raven dies in Ellen's arms.
At 81 min. This Gun For Hire is slickly packaged with some very fine performances. Tuttle’s direction seems effortless even if Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett's screenplay leaves something to be desired. The plot shifts from Ellen’s lighthearted nightclub audition using the playful tune ‘Now You See It, Now You Don’t’ as a launch into her harrowing escape with Raven through the rail yards.
The film's potency as a noir thriller is hampered by Allan Ladd - not because his performance is weak. On the contrary, he's the best in the whole movie. But because his character is initially set up as the villain of the piece. Yet, as the script unravels, Ladd's Raven shifts from pure evil, to avenging angel, to finally a good guy trapped in a set of very bad circumstances. That's difficult casting, and it is saying much of Ladd's performance that he manages to pull off this near impossible balancing act for us in a way that seems entirely believable.
Ladd and Lake have fantastic on screen chemistry. It's no wonder they were costarred again and again in like minded fare, and a genuine pity indeed that none of their subsequent movie teaming have surfaced either on DVD or Blu-ray. In the final analysis, This Gun For Hire is a rewarding movie experience. Its just not entirely perfected as film noir entertainment.
Universal’s DVD transfer is on the whole quite solid and clean. The gray scale is very well balanced with deep solid blacks and whites that are almost pristine. There’s a hint film grain and some age related artifacts. Also, some edge enhancement and pixelization, but nothing that will distract. The audio is mono and very well represented. There are no extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)