“This Gun for Hire” (1942)

This Gun for Hire was the first show in Take-Up Productions‘ new film series, “From The Vaults of Universal: Seven Classic Film Noirs”, on Mondays in February and March 2009 at the Heights Theater in Minneapolis. It starred Veronica Lake, in her famous side-parted -do, and introduced Alad Ladd as hitman Raven, who utterly stole the film.

Willard Gates: Raven… how do you feel when you’re doing [indicates murder headlines]…this?
Philip Raven: I feel fine.

From the screenplay by Graham Greene, Raven is in trouble after he’s paid for a hit in marked bills. Not only are the police after him, but so is the man who double-crossed him. Lake becomes involved in the complicated case that involves chemical weapons, spies, blackmail and murder. The plot is much less important than the look, performances, and atmosphere, which melt into a powerful whole.

The noir formula is turned on its head; Ladd is more of an homme fatale, while Lake is the innocent drawn in by her attraction to him. Ladd is best in the first half of the film, when he is inscrutable and unpredictable. Toward the end, his character explains his history, and I found the end manipulatively redemptive.

Next Monday is a double feature, Criss Cross and The Killers. The shows start at 7:30pm, but get there early. The Heights was nearly filled on Monday night, and the shows might sell out. Also, be sure to leave time and money for the Heights’ excellent popcorn, which you can get with real butter.

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