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Friday, January 19, 2018

THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942)

Dandy film noir doesn’t have the high profile it deserves. Best known for jumpstarting Alan Ladd’s film career, it nails the form in 80 tough, tidy minutes. (Is it really from a Graham Greene novel?) Ladd, small & delicate as a porcelain, is amazingly effective as a friendless, cold-blooded hitman, with a soft spot for cats, seeking his own kind of justice after taking out a blackmailer for fat, squeamish, amoral employer Laird Cregar. Both men, for different reasons, wind up drawn to nightclub chanteuse Veronica Lake*, small & delicate as a porcelain, an innocent pawn between them and fiancé Robert Preston, a detective assigned to the case. (As usual in noir, there seem to be maybe eight or nine people in the world, all interrelated.) Cleverly worked out, clearly structured & darkly propulsive under director Frank Tuttle who usually worked on Bing Crosby vehicles, here getting a huge bump in filmmaking chops, just like fellow Paramount helmers Billy Wilder & Preston Sturges, from vet cinematographer John F. Seitz. In spite of the plot’s WWII machinations, the characters have a contemporary edge that’s hardly dated. Defined by their jobs, the drama is pure form-equals-function. Maybe that’s the Graham Greene connection.

ATTENTION MUST PAID: *Lake’s act is a showstopping hoot with real magic & superbly dubbed vocals.

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