Release Date: April 24th, 1942 (Denver premiere)
Directed by: Frank Tuttle
Written by: Albert Maltz, W.R. Burnett
Based on: A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, Alan Ladd
Paramount Pictures, 81 Minutes
“You are trying to make me go soft. Well, you can save it. I don’t go soft for anybody.” – Philip Raven
I feel like this picture doesn’t get the respect it deserves for establishing the noir genre and style. A lot of people don’t want to consider anything that came out before Double Indemnity as true film-noir but that’s bullshit. In fact, I consider Fritz Lang’s M from 1931 to be a part of the genre, even if it predates the era by a decade and was a movie made in Germany.
This Gun for Hire predates Double Indemnity by two years but it also came out a year after The Maltese Falcon and if you don’t consider that classic noir, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Plus, this movie stars Veronica Lake in her prime; that alone screams noir.
I really like the story in this too, as it puts Lake’s character between a rock and a hard place. She’s really just an innocent woman wrapped up with trying to reason with a killer that doesn’t have her in his sights but is hunting down the man who double-crossed him.
In part, the film is a character study of Alan Ladd’s Philip Raven, who confides in Lake’s Ellen about his past and how he fell into a very shady and violent life. Ellen wants to save Raven from himself but this is film-noir and it’s very rare that the bad guy ever gets off scott free.
There are typical noir twists and they make this a pretty layered and exciting film from start to finish. Things escalate quite a bit as the picture rolls on and it’s not entirely clear as to whether or not Ellen could also have a bad fate just for trying to save Raven from himself.
I think that the fact that this has a great plot is due to it being an adaptation of a Graham Greene story. Every film based off of his work that I’ve seen has always given me a pleasurable experience.
Additionally, this encompasses the noir vibe in its visual style. The credit for that goes to cinematographer John F. Seitz, a guy who won seven Academy Awards before he hung it up.
Sure, director Frank Tuttle also deserves credit, as he brought all the pieces together and really got superb performances out of Veronica Lake, Robert Preston and Alan Ladd. Not to say that these three aren’t always more than capable.
This Gun for Hire isn’t a film-noir that gets talked about as much as some of the more famous pictures but some of those better movies probably wouldn’t have existed in their same form if it wasn’t for this trendsetting motion picture that was just a few years ahead of its time.
Pairs well with: The Blue Dahlia, The Glass Key, Murder, My Sweet, Criss Cross and Phantom Lady.