This Gun for Hire ★★★★

There's a number of remarkable things about this film: It's one of the first noirs, it's based on a 1936 Graham Greene crime novel, and it's Alan Ladd's debut in a major production. The story of a cold-blooded hit man who gets caught up in an espionage scheme, it's also the first teaming of Ladd and Veronica Lake.

The plot is a bit more sophisticated than most noirs, with some far-fetched coincidences (Lake, a nightclub singer persuaded by a Senator to uncover the espionage scheme, just happens to be sitting next to Ladd on a train and also just happens to be the girlfriend of the cop who is pursuing Ladd). But it all works, and I especially liked the evil industrialist who is selling military secrets to the Japanese.

Ladd is excellent and is the center of the film (even though he's third billed under Lake and Robert Preston). The scene where he reveals his childhood abuse as the basis for his coldhearted approach to life is dramatic, as are the first 15-20 minutes of the film where he's shown hard-slapping a woman, gunning down two people in cold blood and considering shooting a crippled little girl who saw his face and could thus identify him.

Larid Cregar, always a great character actor, plays a slimy criminal who owns a nightclub. I have never warmed up to Veronica Lake as an actress, but she always plays well against Ladd. And it's interesting seeing Robert Preston (pre-"Music Man") in his early somewhat unsuccessful period as a leading man, (here playing a cop) before he gave up and returned to Broadway to become a huge star.

The only parts of the film that don't work are the scenes where Lake is performing in a nightclub. In the first, she is doing a rather gimmicky magic trick while singing. And the second is set in a nautical-themed nightclub, with mermaids lounging around and girls with fishing rods. It's all hokey and makes me wonder why Paramount included these in what otherwise is a tense and taut thriller. But overall, a very entertaining film. I had not seen this in over 30 years, and it was well-worth watching. Seen on the TCM app.

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