Friday, March 9, 2012

This Gun For Hire (1942)

“Don't you trust me?”
“Who trusts anybody?” 

            This Gun For Hire is one of the best Film Noirs I have seen. There is a bad guy who is the protagonist and a stunningly gorgeous femme fatale who is as tough as they come and does not lose her cool. The story involves all the characters in some form and they all come together perfectly at the end.
            Raven (Alan Ladd) is a professional hit man. He is hired by a man named Willard Gates to kill a chemist who has been blackmailing him and get the formulas he has. Raven does the job but Gates double crosses him by giving him marked bills and informing the police that the money was stolen. Raven realizes that the police are on to him and has to get out of town to find Gates and his employer Alvin Brewster of Nitro Chemicals.
            Lieutenant Michael Crane was vacationing in San Francisco to see his girlfriend nightclub singer Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) when word comes in of the robbery and decides to join the case. Ellen auditions for a nightclub that just so happens to be run by Gates and gets the job. Later on she is taken to meet a senator who gives her an assignment to spy on Gates and Brewster who are traitors to the country and what they plan to do with the chemical formula.

            Ellen sets out by train to LA to start work at the nightclub. Gates is on the same train but in a sleeper. Raven also hops on the same train and the only seat left just so happens to be the one next to Ellen. Gates sees them the next morning with Raven’s head resting on Ellen’s shoulder. He gets nervous thinking they are working together but neither of them knows anything about the other let alone what they are working towards. News is out that Raven is a wanted man and the way to identify him is through a broken wrist that never healed right. He takes Ellen as his hostage and uses her coat to hide his wrist. He wants to kill her but fate intervenes and Ellen gets away.
            At the nightclub Ellen meets Gates. He breaks out a package of mints and she remembers Raven saying something about a man and how the man likes mints. She realizes that they are after the same man. Gates invites her over to his place for dinner where he has her drugged and tied up to throw her over a bridge. Raven shows up at the house that night and actually saves Ellen but he takes her as his hostage. She does not try to get away instead she calmly follows him as the police chase them all over town. They spend the night in an old boxcar where they talk out what Gates had taken from the blackmailer. Ellen concludes that Nitro Chemicals is going to sell the formula to the Japanese.
            In the end Raven is the one to get Brewster and Gates to sign a confession of their crimes. There is a shoot out at the chemical factory and Raven is fatally shot.
            Now the way I wrote out the summary may be hard to follow but trust me when you watch the film the story is easy to follow. I like the fact that everyone has a connection to Gates and Brewster, they all have their own stake in the two men but for different reasons. I especially liked how the audience is made to have sympathy for a bad guy, that was something that was practically never done in films at that time.
            This is the film that made Alan Ladd a star at Paramount. He did a wonderful job playing Raven. The character was bad he was a professional killer but he had a soft spot for children and cats. That soft spot is what makes the audience care about this bad guy. Anyone could have played a bad guy with a soft spot but Ladd really got it he was perfect as the quiet but lethal guy but still had some moral fiber in his body. The story really makes you feel for him when he tells Ellen about his childhood and how he wound up the way he is.
            Veronica Lake was also perfect in her role. Her character had a bit of a toughness and strength to her which Lake brought out wonderfully. You can tell by looking at her in certain scenes that the character is a bit scared and flustered but keeps in so the situation does not get out of hand. If Ellen Graham can be considered a femme fatal she is one of my favorites.
            This Gun for Hire is a great Film Noir. The story takes a grip on you right from the beginning when Raven kills the chemist and does not let go for one second.