Rachel, over at Hamlette’s Soliloquy is hosting this blogathon all about the actor Alan Ladd. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. I’m writing about Alan’s performance in the Noir film This Gun For Hire.
In 1942, Alan Ladd was cast in the lead role in a little Noir film which would catapult him to film stardom. For several years before this role came along Alan had been working very hard trying to get his big screen break.
Since the early 1930’s Alan Ladd had been seen on screen in bit parts, including in a small role as a reporter in Citizen Kane. Try as he might though, he just wasn’t getting cast in any major film roles and it seemed like he was going nowhere mighty fast. Alan’s luck was about to change though, when he was offered the role of the contract killer Raven, in Frank Tuttle’s 1942 Noir film, This Gun For Hire.
Who knows what Ladd thought of his role as Raven, or indeed if he had any expectations at all as to audience reactions to his performance. Whatever he may have thought, he was in for a very pleasant surprise indeed. This film made him into a star.
Following his performance in this film Alan Ladd would go on to become one of the most beloved stars of the 40’s and 50’s. His career peaked with the 1953 Western film Shane. Alan sadly died in 1964 , aged just fifty years old. A sad loss indeed for the film industry.
This Gun For Hire is a very good film indeed, but I think it is Ladd who makes this film remain so memorable today. He is downright scary as the ice cold killer calmly killing to order. He steals every scene he is in with just a look. He really doesn’t need much dialogue in this one, his face tells us all we will ever need to know about this guy and what his motives are.
The famous sequence with Raven getting mean with the woman who hurt the cat. Screenshots by me.
Right from the films opening scene Ladd has our attention with every little move he makes, and with every look which crosses his face. He gives us a very clear impression of Raven. We see that he is kind and tender towards his cat, and that he shows absolutely nothing but contempt and hatred towards the cleaning woman who hurts his cat. Raven gets rough with the cleaning woman and makes her leave his room.
As the film goes on we see that Raven isn’t a people person, and he has no qualms whatsoever about killing other people to order. He will use his own judgement though at times and if something doesn’t seem right to him he will go against orders. He is also a very good judge of character too.
This film also saw the first pairing of one of cinemas greatest screen couples. Who are they? Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake of course. This couple worked together in four Noir films.
As far as I’m concerned this first film is one of their very best pairings. They are magical together and have real chemistry. Ladd’s baby faced, tough guy, and Lake’s cool, sensual blonde sure do make for a very memorable screen pairing.
The growing relationship between their characters is a major part of why I love this film so much. They slowly grow to trust and like each other, and Raven opens up to tell her about his past, which then explains so much to us about how he came to be the man he is.
The interactions between their characters is the heart and soul of the film. Ladd and Lake (and their characters) are the reason (in my opinion)why this film stands up so well when viewed today. The film has a really cracking story, but it is the strong performances which linger most in your mind after viewing this one.
Raven (Alan Ladd)is a gun for hire, he is not a people person and much prefers the company of animals. Raven is hired by the peppermint chewing Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) to kill a blackmailer who has stolen a chemical formula from the Nitro Chemical company where Gates works. Raven (in a pretty brutal sequence for the era) kills the blackmailer and his girlfriend, and then leaves with the recovered formula.
Gates betrays Raven by paying him off with some marked money. Gates then reports Raven to the Police. Raven doesn’t trust Gates and he buys something from a shop to test if the money is being watched for. He sees that it is marked, and so Raven then goes after Gates for revenge.
Gates also works as a nightclub manager and hires the talented singer/magic act entertainer Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) to work for him. What Gates doesn’t know is that she is the girlfriend of Detective Michael Crane (Robert Preston)who is on Raven’s tale. Ellen is also asked to spy on Gates by a Senator, who is himself being blackmailed by Gates.
It soon transpires that Nitro Chemicals, Gates, and his colleagues are under suspicion of being traitors to their country. Ellen risks her life to get dirt on Gates, and is soon also thrown together with Raven. The two get closer and closer to danger and to the truth.
My favourite scenes are the following. Ellen’s magic trick act for Gates(featuring a catchy song and some clever camera trickery and editing.) Raven evading the Police at his hotel. Raven telling Ellen about his childhood. Raven and Ellen meeting on the train. Gates discovering Raven is on the same train as him and getting very worried indeed.
This is a solid Noir/thriller about a brave gal, and about a morally dubious man, who in the end does show some redemptive qualities. Ladd steals every scene he is in here. It’s really not hard to see why this performance turned him into a star. This is one of my favourite films of his, and I think it would be a very good place to start to introduce someone to his film work.
Here are my five favourite Alan Ladd performances.
1- This Gun For Hire
2 – The Blue Dahlia
4- Hell Below Zero
5 -The Proud Rebel
What are your thoughts on this film? Any other fans? What do you think of Alan’s performance as Raven? Please leave your comments below.