This Gun for Hire, based on a novel by Graham Greene, was directed by Frank Tuttle, and was one of two film noirs Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake starred in during 1942. America was embroiled in World War II by this time, and patriotic themes are found throughout the film, as well as espionage, greed, crime, and murder.
The film begins with an alarm clock waking Ladd's character, Philip Raven, from his sleep (a foreshadow of his death at the end of the film). He has been sleeping in his clothes, he is alone, and from somewhere off screen a happy little tune is playing. It continues as he looks at a name, an address, a package, and his gun. As he's getting ready to leave, a cat comes to the window. Raven feeds it a saucer of milk, an act of kindness that seems to be his one redeeming quality.
It's juxtaposed against the next scene in which Raven beats the cleaning woman for scaring the cat away. How can a man be nice to an animal one minute and beat up the cleaning woman the next? What does this say about his character? His values? It transitions well into the next scene, where Raven kills the man that belongs to the name on the package. Raven the middleman, exchanges money for a formula of some kind, only after the deal he kills the man and his mistress.
He kills the woman mercilessly, though she has barricaded herself on the other side of the door to the kitchen. He shoots her through the door, and must push her dead body as he goes through the door to make sure she is dead. This is juxtaposed against the next scene where he is walking down the stairs from the dead couple's apartment. A girl in leg braces playing with a ball, who he passed on the way up, is still there. She, like the woman in the apartment, is a witness to his crimes. Will he kill the girl as well? The girl loses her ball, and asks Raven retrieve it for her. He gives her the ball, turns and leaves.
The girl, like the cat, represents an innocence Raven has lost. He later tells Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) of how he was beat by his aunt who took care of him. How he had been abused often, and one day he lashed out at her, killing her and breaking his wrist, which is still deformed. The wrist is his "mark of Cain", a physical deformity which will lead the police to him. It marks him as the murderer. He spares the cat and the girl because they represent him before he got his deformity.
As he tells Ellen his story, they are in an abandoned box car, being pursued by the police. The searchlights are probing the area. A cat has joined them, and Raven pets the cat as he tells her the story. Two men approach, who apparently live in one of the cars. Raven puts his jacket over the cat to keep it quiet. The men leave, but not before Raven inadvertently smothers the cat to death.
Again, it's a foreshadowing of his death at the end of them film. He will die just as his "innocence" has died. He dies after revealing the true villain of the film, Alvin Brewster, who is trying to sell the formula of a poisonous gas to America's enemies. Raven is killed by the police who don't know that he has done this. It's his final redeeming act.
Text (c) LCB 2000
AMAZON.COM is the registered trademark of Amazon.com, Inc.