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 magical 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.
The rest of the cast are all very 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, Marc Lawrence as his sadistic driver and a very young Robert Preston as Ellen’s boyfriend who is also a cop.
Even though Lake and Preston’s names are displayed over the title and Ladd had gotten fourth billing, it’s the pairing of the characters played by Ladd and Lake that made This Gun For Hire such a treat to watch. It’s no wonder they would subsequently be teamed in three more films after this (and an additional three appearing as themselves).