This Gun For Hire (1942) Breakdown by The Hestinator (Brandon)

A cat-loving hitman finds himself wrapped up in a conspiracy after being given marked bills as payment by the last person to hire his lethal services.



Alan Ladd as Philip Raven

Raven is a tougher-than-nails hitman who appears to have no conscience. Hell, he even briefly considers pumping a polio-ridden child (Virita Campbell) full of lead for being a possible witness to one of his crimes. He doesn’t need anybody…well, except for cats. This guy loves the kitties. Mess with one of his felines and he’ll mess you up. His backstory is that he was raised by an abusive aunt who he eventually gave the knife after she shattered his wrist, giving that part of his body a distinctive look to this day.
This was not actor Alan Ladd’s first rodeo. Nope, not by a long shot. He had a bunch of roles before this, including an uncredited role in a little film called Citizen Kane (1941) as a reporter. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) also says that he may have also had a small part as a manimal in the sci-fi-horror masterpiece Island of Lost Souls (1932) (though this isn’t listed on his Wikipedia filmography, so it’s pretty questionable). Personally, I’m more amped about his possible role in that pulp horror flick than his one in Citizen Kane. Anyway, This Gun for Hire was still Ladd’s breakout movie, with him getting the special “and introducing” credit at the opening. He would play the macho-mercenary-who-secretly-has-a-good-heart part in several more movies after this.

Veronica Lake as Ellen Graham

A nightclub singer/magician, Ellen is recruited by a U.S. Senator named Burnett (Roger Imhof) for a top-secret spy job. Her two musical numbers (“Now You See It, Now You Don’t” and “I’ve Got You”), where she is dubbed by Martha Mears, honestly don’t break up the pacing of the film much, which they easily could’ve done in a lesser film, and she makes an able accomplice to Alan Ladd’s character. This would not be the last time that Lake ‘n’ Ladd would be in a motion picture together.

Robert Preston as Michael Crane

Throwing some romantic complications into the plot is police detective Michael Crane, played by Robert Preston, who is Ellen Graham’s boyfriend. Preston gets second-billing in the opening credits, but he’s easily eclipsed by Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. He’s your typical cracker-ass cop from the days of Hollywood’s Production Code, so let’s move right along…

Victor Kilian as Drew

The Waylon Smithers to Alvin Brewster’s Mr. Burns, this abused, long-suffering, and unappreciated man-servant apparently spent years feeding chemical plant owner Brewster and wiping his shitty asshole. He’s about to grow sick of it. MVP.


Laird Cregar as Willard Gates

Willard Gates (not to be confused with Bill) is a peppermint-popping nightclub owner who enjoys inviting female acts over to his mansion for a night of hot love. Despite being squeamish around violence, he hires Raven to eliminate a chemist named Albert Baker (Frank Ferguson) who’s been blackmailing somebody important. This guy’s a real worm, but he’s such a pathetic villain that you can’t help but enjoy the screentime he’s given.

Tully Marshall as Alvin Brewster

An aging chemical plant owner, ol’ Alvin is a real piece of work. He does the “I’m just a defenseless old man!” act, but don’t trust him. He wants Alan Ladd’s hitman dead, and keeps the buffoonish Willard Gates on his payroll.



Alan Ladd is very hard here. A real loner, when Veronica Lake hits on him (despite her relationship with the exciting Robert Preston), he rebuffs her efforts, dismissing the lovey-dovey stuff as “sucker talk” and “soft.” I mean, Alan Ladd is really, really hard. Also, I’ll never get the mental image of Drew polishing Alvin Brewster’s bunghole out of my head.


Raven (Ladd) has little use for human woman, preferring cats. In the opening scene, he rips the dress of boarding house employee Annie (Pamela Blake) and gives her a good slapping for violently shooing away one of his kitties. I mean, it did look like she slapped that cat hard with her dishrag, so maybe this shocking act of misogyny was justified? Maybe? Maybe? Anyone…?


All in all, six people take dirt naps in This Gun for Hire. On his first mission of the film’s runtime, Alan Ladd shoots chemist Albert Baker and his – er – secretary (Bernadene Hayes). Later, Ladd blows away a copper at a trainyard, sparking a shootout there. The final three deaths, which I’ll keep somewhat vague to avoid complete spoilers, occur close together, with somebody dying from a heart attack after a pen-gun gadget is fired and two others being capped by firearms. All the fatal violence in the flick is bloodless, but blood can be seen during two non-lethal incidents. Tommy (Marc Lawrence) has a scratch on his forehead after biffing it down a staircase and Raven (Ladd) slices up his hand on a pipe grate while trying to evade the popo.


Ellen finds herself bound and gagged at Willard Gates’ mansion, with Gates and his chauffeur/man-servant Tommy plotting to dump her in a reservoir to drown her. Luckily, Raven shows up in time to rescue her, but Tommy stands in his way. Raven’s response? He kicks that jerk down a staircase into the basement. Tommy survives his trip, but – well – ouch.



The Trainyard Shootout

At one point, law enforcement has Raven pinned down in a trainyard. As the coppers move in, they tear-gas out Ellen, mistaking her for Raven (yes, they mistook Veronica Lake for Alan Ladd). The on-the-run hitman makes a break for it, but is confronted by a police officer who he slays via gunshot. The noise of the pistol alerts the rest of the cops to Raven’s position, and soon the professional killer finds himself running down a bridge overlooking the railway yard, with lawmen closing in on both sides. An innocent civilian is almost caught in the crossfire, and Raven makes his great escape by leaping off the bridge onto a passing train. That’s how you make an exit.


After giving Albert Baker and his female companion one-way tickets to Saint Peter, Raven sits down for a meal with Willard Gates. Here, Gates pays the hitman for the killings.
Willard Gates (Laird Cregar): Direct from the bank as I promised. Oh, I see your point, of course. If the bills were bad, you couldn’t very well complain to the police, could you?
Philip Raven (Alan Ladd): I’m my own police.


I’m not the biggest fan of pure film noir. I love some, like The Big Heat (1953) and Touch of Evil (1958) (I’m not counting films like White Heat [1949] – half-noir-half-semi-traditional-gangster-story – or The Night of the Hunter [1955] – more of a dark, German Expressionist-inspired Southern Gothic fairy tale from Hell – as pure noir here). This Gun for Hire is one of the few to really tickle my fancy, being a real eight-outta-ten motion picture. It seems to pack a lot more excitement and intrigue into its eighty-one-minute package than most other noirs manage to.

This crime-thriller, based on the 1936 book A Gun for Sale by Grahame Greene, played a key role in establishing the trope of the badass-trench-coat-wearing-hitman-who-secretly-has-a-soft-spot. I suppose its influence can be seen everywhere from Le Samouraï (1967) to Léon: The Professional (1994). Hell, even though the main character isn’t exactly a hitperson, the sci-fi film Alphaville (1965) may have borrowed somewhat from its legacy. I also get weird The Guns of Navarone (1961) vibes from the finale of This Gun for Hire. I mean, the hero disguises himself as a villain and locks himself in the baddies’ chamber, as other folks try to weld their way through the blast doors to the room that the hero is locked in.

The only movie that the great James Cagney ever directed was a remake of this classic, titled Short Cut To Hell (1957). It’s thoroughly mediocre, though, so don’t be in a rush to watch it. Another remake was a film of the same title released in 1991, starring Robert Wagner (Wikipedia currently claims that, in a 2000 interview, Wagner said it was one of his favorite roles). Also, who could forget that footage from 1942 original was incorporated into the Steve Martin noir spoof Dead Man Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)?

This film has an agreeable pace and runtime, with a few bits of well-handled action. No, it’s not a true action movie extravaganza, it’s really more action-adjacent, but it’s edge-of-your-seat stuff at times. It’s remarkable seeing a motion picture from the heyday of the Hollywood Production Code (the set of rules for American-made movies that dictated what content could and couldn’t be in them) that has a professional murderer portrayed in such a likeable and sympathetic manner. It’s really stretching the Code to its limits in regard to admirable criminals. Alan Ladd is a revelation. David Buttolph’s musical score is average and the vast majority of the characters are well-defined. It’s interesting to note that this is one of the few pure films noirs that doubles as a war flick. I won’t spoil the details, but large parts of the narrative would vanish if World War II never took place.

Slick and somewhat pulpy, This Gun for Hire is not only influential, but also a great work in its own right. I’d recommend going out and buying a copy, but, if you don’t feel like that, at least rent it, because this fun is for hire.


Alan Ladd must remain hard around Veronica Lake.


[] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[] Crotch Attack
[] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket, Or A Towel
[X] Factory/Warehouse/Castle
[] Giant Explosions
[] Heavy Artillery
[] Improvised Weapon(s)
[] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[] Manly Embrace(s)
[] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot-Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[] Stupid Authoritative Figures
[] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[] Torture Sequence(s)
[X] Unnecessary Sequel*
[] Vehicle Chase(s)
[X] Vigilante Justice

[TOTAL: 6 outta 25]

*The film was remade a couple of times, as documented in the “THE EXECUTION” section of the breakdown.