Friday, May 19, 2006

This Gun for Hire


Dir: Frank Tuttle (Island of Lost Women; College Holiday; Hell on Frisco Bay)

Another of the film noirs cited as an inspiration for Melville's Le Samourai (see also Odds Against Tomorrow). It is also perennial heavy Alan Ladd's film debut. Veronica Lake is a nightclub singer/magician (she is good at neither, but has passable slight of hand skills) who is spying on a chemical company executive who is suspected of selling nerve agents to the Japanese. Ladd is a hired killer who has been double crossed by said executive. Lake has a boyfriend who is a cop who is chasing Ladd and the executive, who doesn't know the connection between the two men or his singer/magician girlfriend and either of the men. Ladd and Lake meet on a train and both end up hostages of the executive. Other than that, everything makes sense.

Actually, it's not that complicated. The Graham Green novel, I wager, took a pretty big beating in being adapted to 1:20 for the screen. The novel was published in 1936, so the whole Japanese war thing is not his fault. This is certainly more philosophical than most bad noir films, with our hitman opening up about his abusive family and considering solitude versus duty. In the end, Ladd sacrifices himself for country and the single minded pursuit of the revenge he has been chasing all his life. The novel might be worth a look, but the film is medicore at best.

It was personally interesting to see the influence Ladd's character had on the stoic killer of Le Samourai. The idea of the solitary nihilistic hitman living in the shadows is a compelling one, and Ladd certainly provides every interesting element of This Gun for Hire. To see that subject handled so much better by Melville shows both what a good film maker can do with commonplace material and the instinct the New Wave had for boiling down American genres to their essetial elements.

This film is forgettable. For serious students of film noir only (which I am, so there you go).