THIS GUN FOR HIRE, 1942
Starring: Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, Laird Cregar and Robert Preston
Philip Raven is a hit man who for his last job was paid by Willard Gates and Alvin Brewster (owner of Nitro Chemical) to kill a man who had been blackmailing them over their business dealings. Raven is double-crossed by Gates and Brewster by being paid by the two of them with “stolen” money, the plan being that Raven would then be incarcerated, unable to tell anyone about what he did and for whom, or be believed if he did. Raven finds out about this and goes in search of Gates to kill him, all the while trying to avoid being arrested. At the same time as this, the Senator and his committee are investigating Gates over suspicions that he is dealing with foreign agents. Ellen Graham is asked by the Senator to go and work in Gates’ nightclub to see if she can find any solid evidence. On her way to L.A. however, Ellen is caught up with Raven who uses her to help him evade the police that are searching for him.
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This Gun For Hire is based on the novel “A Gun For Sale” written by Graham Greene.
The film is far from simplistic in its approach - it starts following two separate storylines. The first being that of Philip Raven (Alan Ladd) who we witness killing a man (later finding out that he was hired to do this by Gates), and the second being Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) who is asked by the Senator to help find evidence of Gates being involved in dealings with foreign agents who propose a threat to America. When travelling to L.A. in their quests Ellen becomes entangled within Raven’s missions to both evade capture himself and finding Gates.
The film manages to intertwine the two stories and all of its characters with great ease and is at no point made difficult to follow. This is partly down to all of the characters being linked to each other in some way, most of whom you are introduced to near the beginning. This being said coincidental happenings are taken to a whole other level in this film – Raven just happens to sit next to Ellen on the train, both who are in some way after Gates, Gates himself just so happens to stumble upon them whilst they are asleep on the train, and the detective in charge of hunting down Raven just so happens to be Ellen’s boyfriend.
What is distinctively different about this film is its plot that involves one hardened criminal (Raven) who is hell bent on confronting another for the “wrong” he has done to him. The film isn’t so much concerned with good people vs. bad people, as a large majority of the film focuses on Raven vs. Gates – both criminals.
Raven is initially represented as being a heartless criminal – when asked how he feels when he kills his response is “fine”. You can’t help but feel that the film is somehow willing the audience to feel sorry for Raven though. In a scene towards the end of the film when he is with Ellen, he tells her about how his parents died when he was young so he went to live with his aunt who beat him every day. Ellen responds to this by saying that he shouldn’t kill anymore as all he is doing is “killing her all over again”. It seems to take the line of approach that Raven is somehow exempt from any real wrongdoing because of his background and the effect this had on him.
During their time together it is evident that Raven gradually falls for Ellen. Throughout the whole of the film, the only time you see him show a flicker of emotion is when Ellen kisses him on the cheek, and when he eventually gets to Gates one of the reasons he says he is angry with him is because he tried to kill Ellen.
In more ways than one, Gates and Brewster are made out to be the ultimate enemy by the end of the film for planning to sell a new gas formula to the Japanese. Raven is the man who brings all of this to light, and is in this sense the films hero - hard to believe considering he is being hunted by the police for pretty much the entirety of the film.
The film provides a different take on the usual good vs. evil crime thriller scenario which is refreshing, and along with its superb cast and remarkable cinematography (John Seitz went on to work as the cinematographer for the noir classic Double Indemnity (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1944)) the film delivers on all levels.