Blogathons, Noir

The Alan Ladd Blogathon: This Gun For Hire (1942)

Alan Ladd Blogathon YellowRachel, 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 (seen in the banner above) 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 though, 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.   

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 slaps the cleaning woman and roughly 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. Unbeknown to him 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

                                                                 3- Shane

                                                               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.

 

 

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “The Alan Ladd Blogathon: This Gun For Hire (1942)”

  1. Totally one of my favorite Alan Ladd films. It’s not at all hard to see why this movie made him a star! Loved all your thoughts on it 🙂 It’s also my favorite pairing of Ladd and Lake (so far — I haven’t seen “Saigon” yet), and I think it works so well because theirs is not actually a love story, which lets them go some interesting and different places, emotionally.

    Four of your top five are also in my top ten of Alan’s films (which I’ll be posting about this weekend), but I haven’t seen “Hell Below Zero” yet! Something to look forward to 🙂

    Thanks for joining the blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for hosting this! I haven’t seen Saigon either, I’m not even sure if that is on DVD. Glad to find another fan of This Gun For Hire. I agree with you about their relationship also. I look forward to reading your top 10 list!

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      1. That is the real problem with being an Alan Ladd fan — so many of his films aren’t out on DVD yet! I just keep hoping. Since I became a major fan early last year, several of his movies have been released to DVD, so maybe Santiago will be coming soon!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This Gun For Hire for hire sounds right up my street. It’s funny how a villain like the one Alan Ladd plays here can also be sympathetic with the right performance and the right cast. Something about Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd was just so indescribably cool, I’ve only seen them in the Blue Dahlia but they must be near the top of any list of noir couples.

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  3. I watched The Blue Dahlia recently off the back of a recommend. WHAT a film. Absolutely love it. I have to admit to not being very clued up on his films and I believe this is the only one I’ve seen of his. But what a film, crazy William Bendix was a delight. This Gun For Hire has been on my list to watch and even more so now seeing your love for it. Yep I know, slapped paw, I’ve still to see Shane! … I will be working my way through your top 5. Thank you Maddy

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  4. Shane was the only movie I had seen Ladd in prior to watching the brilliant film noir comedy tribute, Steve Martin’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”. It was because of the clips the producers of that flick used that I finally got around to seeing the whole movie “This Gun for Hire”. I truly enjoyed it then and have since watched it a few times. Good review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So happy to find another fan of this one. I really enjoyed reading your entry to the blogathon. I’m having trouble leaving comments on none WordPress blogs unless they have their comments sections set to accept anonymous comments; so I’m sorry I can’t drop by your fantastic blog and leave a comment or like 😦 The Blue Dahlia is a fantastic film, Ladd and Lake are both superb, but William Bendix sure does steal the show in that one. Maddy

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  5. Very good post! I also noticed that Ladd tried without success for a big break in the 1930s. While I haven’t seen This Gun for Hire, I agree that Ladd and Veronica Lake have a great chemistry – and it amazes me that she was only 19 when this film was made.
    Kisses!
    Le

    Liked by 1 person

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