Cast & Crew
In San Francisco, during World War II, Philip Raven, a cold-blooded hired killer, awakens fully dressed from his late morning sleep to carry out a job. He is to murder Albert Baker, a chemist in possession of Nitrochemical Corporation's formula for poison gas, which he is using to blackmail the Los Angeles-based company. Raven mercilessly kills Baker and his secretary after retrieving the formula, and is paid $20,000 in ten-dollar bills by Willard Gates, an executive for Nitrochemical and an independent nightclub owner. Gates immediately registers the numbers on the bills with the police and claims that Raven stole the $20,000 from Nitrochemical's paymaster. Vacationing Los Angeles police lieutenant Michael Crane is assigned to the case. Coincidentally, Gates hires Michael's fiancée, Ellen Graham, who performs a singing magic act, to work at his Neptune Club in Los Angeles. Both men are unaware that Ellen is working undercover for Senator Burnett to determine Gates's involvement in the sale of the poison gas plans to the enemy. Raven outwits Michael and the police at his boardinghouse and, realizing that Gates has double-crossed him, follows him onto the train to Los Angeles. Ellen is forced to postpone her wedding plans because of her commitment to Burnett, and unwittingly shares her seat on the train to Los Angeles with Raven. When she notices that he has stolen five dollars from her purse, she demands the return of the money, but graciously refrains from turning him in. In the morning, Gates sees Raven and Ellen asleep on the same seat and suspects that they are in collusion with each other. He alerts the Los Angeles police, who then search the disembarking passengers, looking for a man with a distended wrist, Raven's most distinguishing feature. Raven takes Ellen hostage and eludes the police. Later he plans to shoot her in a condemned building, but is interrupted by a demolition crew, and Ellen escapes. Alvin Brewster, the elderly and powerful owner of Nitrochemical, reprimands Gates for losing Raven and insists that he determine Ellen's connection to the killer. Gates invites Ellen to his Hollywood mansion for dinner that night, and when she innocently lies about her seat partner on the train, he orders his chauffeur, Tommy, to get rid of her. Tommy knocks Ellen out and ties her up, intending to dump her in the river later as a mock suicide. Michael, meanwhile, returns to Los Angeles and, on a tip from a chorus girl, goes to Gates's house looking for Ellen. As Ellen is hidden in a closet, Michael leaves without her, but Raven, who has tracked Gates, knocks Tommy down a flight of stairs and rescues Ellen. Promising she will not be harmed, Raven takes her to the Neptune Club, but is unable to exact his revenge on Gates because Michael is there. Raven then escapes with Ellen, who surreptitiously leaves a trail of her monogrammed playing cards for Michael to follow. The fugitives hide in a shack in the railroad yards surrounded by the police, and form a bond when they each discover how Gates has betrayed them. When a cat comes into the shack, the hardened killer fondles the animal, but is forced to kill it when it nearly gives away their location. Raven reveals to Ellen the abuse he endured as an orphan child, which warped his wrist and led him into a life of crime. Touched, she urges him not to kill Gates, but to help his country by getting a signed confession of Gates's disloyalty. Raven initially resists her suggestion, but, having learned to trust her, agrees to the plan the next morning when she helps him escape. After Raven kills a police officer during his escape, Michael urges a reticent Ellen to reveal her involvement. Although Ellen refuses to speak, Michael correctly guesses that Raven is headed for the Nitrochemical Corp. building. Raven infiltrates the building and holds Brewster, a fifth columnist, and a sniveling Gates hostage, and insists that the traitors sign a written confession. Brewster's heart fails and he dies, and Raven kills Gates before being shot by Michael, who has entered the secured room from a painter's scaffolding. Raven resists killing Michael out of friendship for Ellen and is gunned down by the police. With his last breath, Raven seeks Ellen's assurance that she did not turn him in to the police, and, after receiving her absolution, he dies.
Charles C. Wilson
Charles R. Moore
Ernest E. Baskett
W. Harry Brown
W. R. Burnett
B. G. Desylva
This Gun for Hire
Alan Ladd was a struggling extra in films (you can spot him briefly in Citizen Kane (1941) as a reporter) until he was discovered by actress-turned-talent agent Sue Carol who convinced Paramount Pictures to audition him for the role of Raven in This Gun For Hire. Director Tuttle was looking for a relatively unknown actor to play the homicidal killer despite the fact that he had once considered Robert Preston for the part. Ironically, Preston ended up being cast as the romantic lead, Lieutenant Michael Crane, while Ladd, his blonde hair dyed black for his screen test, clinched the part of Raven after impressing Tuttle and the other Paramount executives with his effectively menacing onscreen persona.
Veronica Lake, Ladd's co-star in This Gun For Hire, was already a major player at Paramount after her success in I Wanted Wings (1941) and I Married a Witch (1942) and physically, she matched up well with Ladd: together they projected an icy magnetism with an undercurrent of sexual tension. The combination proved irresistible to moviegoers; the Lake-Ladd team became Paramount's most popular on-screen couple, and the duo was reunited for The Glass Key (1942), The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Saigon (1948). Publicists even tried to suggest there was an off-screen romance brewing between the two but it was only a marketing ploy. Ladd was already in love with Sue Carol (they married later in 1942) and Lake eventually married director Andre de Toth in 1944.
In her autobiography, Lake described her successful partnership with Ladd: "We had less to do with each other than most other acting teams. We'd arrive on the set early each morning. Alan would nod and say, 'Good Morning, Ronnie.'
We'd go to wardrobe and makeup, play our scenes together, and go back to our dressing rooms to take off the makeup and wardrobe.
'Night, Alan, see you tomorrow.'
Alan was a marvelous person in his simplicity. In so many ways we were kindred spirits....And we were both little (in size) people. It was true that in certain films in which his leading lady was on the tallish size, Alan would climb onto a small platform or the girl worked in a slit trench. We had no such problems working together. Both of us were very aloof....It enabled us to work together very easily and without friction or temperament."
But for their first teaming together in This Gun For Hire, it was really Ladd who walked off with the picture. Despite Lake's top billing, the script was reworked during filming to give Ladd a larger role since Paramount executives recognized the young actor's potential. It was a smart gamble and many film critics and historians still feel it is Ladd's best performance, even better than his heroic role as Shane (1953). It would also be the last time Ladd would be cast as a murderer.
This Gun For Hire was later remade in 1957 as Short Cut to Hell by James Cagney in his only attempt at directing. There was even another remake planned with Sammy Davis, Jr. but it never materialized. At any rate, This Gun For Hire is mandatory viewing for any film noir fan and, along with John Boulting's Brighton Rock (1947), is among the finest film adaptations of a Graham Greene novel. Of course, Greene's original screenplays for The Fallen Idol (1947) and The Third Man (1948) rank even higher among film historians.
Director: Frank Tuttle
Screenplay: Graham Greene (novel A Gun for Sale), Albert Maltz, W.R. Burnett
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Robert Usher
Cinematography: John Seitz
Costume Design: Edith Head
Film Editing: Archie Marshek
Original Music: David Buttolph
Cast: Veronica Lake (Ellen Graham), Robert Preston (Lieut. Michael Crane), Laird Cregar (Willard Gates, Owner Neptune Club), Alan Ladd (Philip Raven), Tully Marshall (Alvin Brewster, President Nitro Chemical Corp.), Marc Lawrence (Tommy), Olin Howlin (Blair Fletcher).
by Jeff Stafford
This Gun for Hire
This Gun For Hire on DVD
Newly released on DVD from Universal Home Video, This Gun For Hire holds up extremely well, thanks to an ingenious script and the potent chemistry of Ladd and Veronica Lake. The screenplay intermeshes several storylines quite clearly and believably - a story of an assassin out for revenge, the cop on his tail, the cop's girlfriend who gets drawn into it all, and a background of wartime duplicity and profiteering involving atomic secrets. It all comes together without feeling contrived because the emotional motivations of each character are so clearly established and adhered to. The script's pedigree explains why - the movie was based on a Graham Greene novel called A Gun For Hire, and the adaptation was penned by Albert Matz and W.R. Burnett. Burnett was a very talented novelist and screenwriter whose novels included High Sierra, The Asphalt Jungle, and Little Caesar and whose film credits included High Sierra and The Great Escape. This Gun For Hire movies along grippingly with great pace from one exciting suspense sequence to another.
And when the time comes for Ladd and Lake to share the screen for a solid chunk of the running time, they do not disappoint. Their chemistry is hot, and it's easy to see why the moviegoing public clamored for more of the two of them together. In fact, it's difficult to think of another screen pairing which ever caused the level of excitement among moviegoers that Ladd and Lake did over their four films together. Paramount was lucky that when This Gun For Hire ignited screens across America, they had already begun production on the next Ladd and Lake picture, The Glass Key(1942), for Lake was not originally cast in the follow-up. That part at first went to Patricia Morison, who shot a few scenes before the studio decided she was too tall to share the screen with the 5' 5" Alan Ladd. Lake, at barely 5 feet, looked good with him, and in Paramount's eyes had done an OK job opposite him in This Gun For Hire. Then that film opened and they realized they had created dynamite. Two further Ladd and Lake pictures would eventually follow - The Blue Dahlia (1946) and Saigon (1948).
Also in the cast is Laird Cregar, a large-in-every-way character actor who specialized in bad guys and did a very good job at it. He was 6' 3" and weighed 300 pounds, and tragically he died two years after this film came out - of a heart attack, after losing 100 pounds more rapidly than his system could bear. His final movie, the fine film noir Hangover Square (1945), was released posthumously.
Paramount's DVD comes with zero frills, but it is an extremely handsome transfer and will not disappoint.
To order This Gun For Hire, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
This Gun For Hire on DVD
Don't you trust me?- Willard Gates
Who trusts anybody?- Philip Raven
Raven...how do you feel when you're doing...- Willard Gates
this?- Willard Gates
I feel fine.- Philip Raven
Graham Greene's novel was originally published in England as A Gun for Sale, but the title was changed to This Gun for Hire for American publication. Sound recorder Philip Wisdom's first name was spelled "Phillip" in the opening credits. Material in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals the following information: The studio intended to produce the film as early as May 1936, shortly after Greene's novel was purchased for $12,000 in London. The story was also known as "Guns for Sale." Producer A. M. Botsford assigned Dore Schary to write the script and was considering Peter Lorre to play the role of "Raven." Two directors, E. A. Dupont and Robert Florey, were interested in the project, but because of production delays, Florey would not commit to the project. Botsford then began to have second thoughts about casting Lorre, who he felt might deliver a "one-key performance." In August 1936, Maurice Geraghty was signed to work on a script with Jack Moffitt, and Botsford considered James Hogan for director. By October 1936, two other writers, Thomas Monroe and Robert Wyler, contributed continuities and scripts, but when costs for producing the film appeared to be prohibitive, Botsford abandoned the project and soon after left Paramount.
The project was taken up again in 1939 and 1940, and for a time, Paramount London considered making the film in Great Britain. Correspondence in the file reveals that in April 1940, actor Anthony Quinn and writer Lester Koenig worked on a version of the script, which apparently was rejected. Finally in June 1941, Albert Maltz, who wrote the final screenplay with W. R. Burnett, began a story outline, and, according to modern sources, the film was rushed into production to capitalize on the growing popularity of Veronica Lake, who had been chosen as the female lead. Modern sources note that the film was called The Redemption of Raven on the Paramount studio lot. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Paramount considered Charlie Ruggles for a role in the film. On December 5, 1941, Alan Ladd, whose blonde hair was dyed black to match the novel's description of Raven, collapsed on the set due to pneumonia and was hospitalized for a week before returning to work. In the interim, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II.
Information in the MPPA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library reveals that the PCA had reservations about several sequences in the script. "Tommy's" description of his plans to kill "Ellen" were considered "unacceptable as they explain too closely the details of committing a crime." This moment remains in the film, as does the scene in which "Gates" is killed by Raven, although the PCA asked the filmmakers to change Raven's motive for the killing. Instead of killing for revenge, the PCA suggested Raven murder Gates because of his refusal to sign the confession. In the final film, however, Raven kills Gates because he hurt Ellen and then lied that she turned Raven in. The PCA issued a certificate of approval with the condition that the filmmakers delete "the scene of the policeman dying at the hands of the criminal," and "Robert Preston's final line 'He did all right by all of us.'" Although the shooting of the policeman remains in the film, Preston's line was altered. In the final film, as he dies, Raven asks Ellen, "Did I do all right for you?," and she nods silently.
The song "I'm Amazed at You" (music by Harold Spina and lyrics by Frank Loesser) did not make it into the film, although it was approved by the PCA. The final production cost of the film was $512,423, which was $63,423 over budget. Despite the fact that Alan Ladd received an "and introducing" credit, he had already appeared in bit parts in dozens of films. According to a 1946 Saturday Evening Post interview, Ladd chose Raven as his favorite role, and credits this film with launching his career as a major film star. Contemporary reviews affirm his assertion. Daily Variety noted in their review that "the story proves inspirational to a skillful young actor, Alan Ladd, whom, in the killer role, it elevates to the status of stardom; [and] to Frank Tuttle, whose direction restores him to the upper rank of his profession." The New York Times review notes: "...Mr. Ladd is the buster; he is really an actor to watch. After this stinging performance, he has something to live up to-or live down." Reviews also noted the acting achievement of Laird Cregar, who was borrowed from Fox, as "masterly." According to a December 1947 article in the New York Times, the MPAA banned the re-release or reissue of this film and a number of other films produced between 1928 and 1947 due to its objectionable criminal content. The ban was part of a recent move by the MPAA to introduce new, stronger regulations "to prevent the glorification of crime and criminals on the screen."
Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake became a popular screen couple, and were teamed again in three other Paramount films: The Glass Key (1942), The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Saigon (1948). They also made cameo appearances in Star Spangled Rhythm (1943) and Duffy's Tavern (1945). This Gun for Hire is considered by many modern sources as one of the first important pictures in the "film noir" genre. In 1957, Paramount issued a remake based on Albert Maltz and W. R. Burnett's screenplay called Short Cut to Hell, directed by James Cagney and starring Robert Ivers and Georgann Johnson. Alan Ladd and Laird Cregar reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on January 25, 1943, co-starring Joan Blondell.
Released in United States 1942
Remade as "Short Cut to Hell" (1957) directed by James Cagney. Graham Greene's novel, originally published in the UK in 1936 as "A Gun For Sale", was published in the United States under the title "This Gun For Hire".
Released in United States 1942