In his breakout role, Alan Ladd plays Raven in this classic noir film. Raven is a taciturn hired killer who has a soft streak when it comes to kittens and kids, but when it comes to killing he’s as cold as they come.
After doing a job for a middleman and his anonymous boss, Raven is paid off in marked cash to take the fall for an other job. However, Raven is very smart and now determined to get some payback on the guys who tried to con him.
This was the role that put Ladd on the Hollywood map and watching it now you can see why. He plays Raven with very dark, dangerous ruthlessness. Even by today’s standards the character holds up very well. His initial job of murdering a man and an unlucky woman accomplice is pretty powerful. No hesitation or anything, just a simple line “they told me he would be alone” and bam.
Then the next minute Ladd shows the streaks of good running through the character. He’ll brutally slap around a maid, then in the next instant lovingly pet a hungry kitten. The more we learn about him, the more sympathy he generates from us. Even the physical deformity of his broken wrist makes you feel kind of bad for the guy.
Veronica Lake stars as a club singer who has a connection with the men Raven is looking for. She gets to show off a bit of dancing, singing and some magic tricks. Oh and of course all the while she looks gorgeous. Together they form a strange partnership of sorts. It’s certainly not the typical Hollywood kind of romantic relationship you would think.
I don’t want to get much more into the story – why spoil the surprises – but rest assure the tension amps up with every character trying to catch up with another and a huge police dragnet encircling our heroes.
Things get quite convoluted. Characters know or meet up, have convenient connections with one another. Things fall into place with little logic as. The thing is, I never mind. The gold in the film are the scenes with Ladd and Lake. As they sit together on a train, hiding out in a shack, their chemistry sparkles as they bounce some killer dialogue back and forth.
The rest of the cast are good in their respective roles. Laird Cregar is both sinister and wimpish as Will Gates the man who makes the mistake of paying off Raven and trying to set him up and Marc Lawrence as his sadistic driver. A very young Robert Preston is Ellen’s boyfriend/cop. While he was billed over Ladd and is meant to be the leading man, he fulfills his role in a rather bland way. There’s no way he can compete with the lively repartee that Lake has with bad guy Ladd.
It’s the pairing of the characters played by Ladd and Lake that made This Gun For Hire such a treat to watch. Forget about trying to make sense of the plot and how things unfold. Once the film is there and focus on the two of them, you’ll forgive everything else. It’s no wonder Ladd and Lake would subsequently be teamed in three more films after this (and an additional three appearing as themselves).
Out of all their screen pairings, This Gun For Hire is their best.