Film Review: This Gun for Hire (1942)

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

Review:

“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.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Blue Dahlia, The Glass Key, Murder, My Sweet, Criss Cross and Phantom Lady.

Film Review: The Last Starfighter (1984)

Release Date: July 13th, 1984
Directed by: Nick Castle
Written by: Jonathan R. Betuel
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Lance Guest, Dan O’Herlihy, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Preston, Norman Snow, Vernon Washington, Marc Alaimo, Wil Wheaton

Lorimar Productions, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Things change. Always do. You’ll get your chance! Important thing is, when it comes, you’ve got to grab with both hands, and hold on tight!” – Otis

The Last Starfighter might not be as remembered as Star Wars and it may have been very strongly inspired by it, as most sci-fi films from the 80s were, but there is something pure and endearing about it that somehow stands the test of time. Frankly, it’s a fantastic picture and it still looks beautiful, even if its special effects are comprised of very early CGI animation.

The film is lighthearted and downright hokey, at times, but it doesn’t fell like that outdated bad sort of 80s cheesiness. It has charm and heart and there really isn’t even a character in this film that isn’t likable. Well, except for the pretty gross bounty hunter Zando-Zan. But hell, even the villains are likable to a degree.

While Star Wars was every boy’s whole world back in the time of my childhood, I can honestly say that I watched The Last Starfighter more often. It was a shorter movie than any of the Star Wars episodes and it told its story and was done. It felt complete, even if it did leave things open for a sequel that never came but should have. It was also just a good straightforward movie without a lot of extra plot and characters beyond what it needed to tell its story. You weren’t distracted by vague references to other worlds and new and strange characters walking into frame every thirty seconds. I’m not saying that those are bad things but The Last Starfighter just focuses on the task at hand and doesn’t try to universe build in order to sell books, comics and toys.

Lance Guest was a really good choice to play our hero, Alex Rogan. He felt like every all-American teenager from a tiny town that just wants to live a much larger life. Catherine Mary Stewart was a perfect compliment to Guest, as the two just had a real chemistry and made you want to root for them to make it and to have a great future.

Dan O’Herlihy was well-hidden as the alien co-pilot Grig. However, his voice is very distinct and I always knew he was the old man that ran OCP in the Robocop movies and the evil Irish madman that wanted his Halloween masks to melt the heads of children in Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Robert Preston was the real scene stealer, though. Every time he is on screen, he commands the attention of the audience and the other actors around him. He had a very strong charisma and likability.

The themes by Craig Safan created one of my favorite film scores of the 1980s. The main theme for The Last Starfighter still holds up well today and every time I hear it, nothing but fond memories and emotions return.

The special effects are made with CGI animation but it is a much more primitive style of animation than what audiences would come to see just a few years later. While the animation is clean, it has a unique and otherworldly look to it that still feels majestic. Even if it looks dated, it still compliments the film and it still works.

The Last Starfighter was fairly popular and has a big cult following. People like Seth Rogen and Steven Spielberg tried for years to buy the rights to it, in an effort to carry on the franchise into the future. However, Jonathan R. Betuel, the writer and creator, will not allow anyone to touch it. Honestly, that’s kind of bad ass.

It isn’t a perfect movie but it still feels perfect to me. It probably deserves more recognition than it has but those who know it, love it.