This Gun For Hire (1942)

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Despite its literary lineage and stunning debut of actor Alan Ladd, not to mention the darkly atmospheric misè en scenes of Seitz and taut direction of Tuttle, this film appears to have slipped off the horizon as a Hollywood great. As far as I’m concerned it’s a seminal work and classic film noir.

Some liberties were taken with Graham Greene’s original story, but that was to be expected given the peculiar obsession by Americans to appropriate all aspects of life and experience as uniquely American. There was also the unexpected entry of the USA into the second world war at what must have been near the middle of the production; Pearl Harbour was bombed on 7 December 1941, This Gun for Hire was released in May 1942.

Greene’s hideous, hare-lipped assassin hired by a wealthy steel magnate to kill the Czech minister for war becomes a strikingly handsome killer, Alan Ladd as Philip Raven (shades of Edgar Allen Poe?), disfigured only by a badly broken wrist and hired by a chemical tycoon via proxy to assassinate a blackmailing industrial chemist who’s threatening to reveal a secret plot to sell a poison gas formula to the Japanese.

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The Glass Key (1942)

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Ostensibly a story of political corruption, betrayal and vengeance, the film is really a character portrait of Ed Beaumont (Ladd), go-to-guy for the somewhat shady political kingmaker Paul Madvig (Donlevy). More than that, the character that emerges is a hard-boiled archetype: smart, tenacious, aloof, cynical, devious, tough, resilient and possessed by his own sense of honour that is his moral compass regardless of whether it’s to his advantage or not. I am tempted to guess that Beaumont has more than a passing resemblance to Hammett’s self-image.

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