Toronto Film Society presented This Gun For Hire on Saturday, May 12, 2012 as part of Season 65 May Festival: The Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid Weekend.
Veronica Lake is the young woman with the long blonde tresses who walked in and out of the airplane hangers and the hearts and affections of aviators in ‘I Wanted Wings,’ attracted a considerable amount of popular curiosity, and an extraordinary amount of publicity. After some months, her second appearance for Paramount was in ‘Sullivan’s Travels,’ in which she was brought along to the point where she handled a bit of comedy in a manner both satisfactory and prophetic of better things to come. Her career reaches a state of arrested development, however, with her third film, ‘This Gun for Hire.’ It’s a vehicle of little importance and limited appeal.
The idea of presenting MissLake as the heroine of an exciting melodrama has its merits. But the material selected is distinctly unsuited to her. It is a very involved yarn by Graham Greene which deals with international intrigue and treason, having to do with the sale of a secret chemical formula to the Japanese. Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett wrote the screenplay, which is a succession of gunplay scenes in which MissLake becomes the unwilling accomplice of a young killer. He is Alan Ladd, who had a small bit in ‘Joan of Paris’ lately. Something of a romance was developing between these two when the police finally caught up with the youth at the end of the picture and he is peppered with lead. These screen massacres, of course, are just make believe, but sometimes trying on the squeamish. Also slightly disconcerting to the heroine, as all the sympathy went to Ladd.
Other players in the film had difficult assignment trying to give some credence to an improbable story. Robert Preston played a policeman, who was too easily outwitted to deserve MissLake in the end, but he cashed just the same. Laird Cregar was an interesting heavy, and Tully Marshall a reprobate of the worst kind.
MissLake’s previous films have had the benefit of first-run bookings in the better theatres. ‘This Gun for Hire’ has difficulties ahead.
VARIETY, Flin., March 16, 1942
THIS GUN FOR HIRE, screen play by Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett; based on the novel by Graham Greene; directed by Frank Tuttle for Paramount. At the Paramount.
One shudders to think of the career which Paramount must have in mind for Alan Ladd, a new actor, after witnessing the young gentleman’s debut as a leading player in that studio’s “This Gun for Hire,” which came to the Paramount yesterday. Obviously, they have tagged him to be the toughest monkey loose on the screen. For not since Jimmy Cagney massaged Mae Clarke’s face with a grapefruit has a grim desperado gunned his way into cinema ranks with such violence as does Mr. Ladd in this fast and exciting melodrama.
Keep your eye peeled for this Ladd fellow; he’s a pretty-boy killer who likes his work. “How do you feel,” asks Laird Cregar, “when you are doing a job like this?”—the reference being to the slaughter of a certain party on a commission from Mr. Cregar. “I feel fine,” Mr. Ladd mutters, without a twitch of his handsome face. And that should have been a warning to Mr. Cregar, representing a chemical concern, not to double-cross Mr. Ladd on the payment of his killer’s fee.
But Mr. Cregar does double-cross him, and thereby hangs the tale. For Mr. Ladd then goes gunning for his erstwhile employer, who happens to be engaged in the manufacture of poison gas for “the enemy.” And, during his obstinate stalking, he falls in with VeronicaLake, who is also shadowing Mr. Cregar for a Senate investigating committee. And together they have some truly hair-raising adventures and close shaves until Mr. Cregar and his boss are finally filled full of assorted holes.
Melodrama, straight and vicious—that’s what this picture is. But it is a good cut above the average, both in its writing and its tensile quality. Frank Tuttle, the director, has paced it with morbid prowling and headlong bursts, and has kept his actors within fairly reasonable bounds. MissLake is a competent customer, and handles her men with cool disdain. Mr. Cregar is a double portion of deceit and cowardice, edging his characterization with a touch of elegance. And Robert Preston is what he should be as a cop who also participates in the chase. But Mr. Ladd is the buster; he is really an actor to watch. After this stinging performance, he has something to live tip to—or live down.
NEW YORK TIMES, by Bosley Crowther, May 14, 1942
Notes compiled by Caren Feldman