That gun's for sale. This one?

"This Gun For Hire" (1942) was the first of 49,043 pairings of Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, or so it seemed. From what I read - on the internet! - he didn't like her by the time they filmed the last one, and once you know her history you can guess why.

Ladd is a killer named Raven. He’s the worst kind of gunsel: a creep. You can tell the way he looks when he checks his gun.

 

That’s about as much emotion as he shows in the entire picture, too. Just in case we don’t know how much of a heel he is, he slaps around a cleaning lady, who goes right into Spitting Tigress Mode:

 

 

Ah, but why did he slap her? Because she abused the cat he was feeding. It’s one of those details that keeps you from totally loathing the killer, even after he does something truly horrifying. (It’s not shown, which is worse; it’s one of the most gut-clenching moments in noir, if you ask me. I won’t tell you. You’ll know.) A guy what likes a kitty ain’t all bad, see? There’s hope. The film requires us to believe he could act for good. Not be good - he’s rotten. But act good for the right reason? Yes.

Just to show you how deformed his soul has become, it’s manifested itself in his wrist:

 

 

Yikes. That’s how they know him when he’s on the lam. As for his lam-mate, well, she has deformed hands too:

 


 

She has eggs growing out of her hands!

 


 

She’s a magician, and does tricks while she sings. She’s charming. Or not; I suppose it depends on your tastes, but in this movie she has a gosh-shucks, decent, guileless quality that seems very American, at least for the times. Her personal life was different - there’s a surprise, isn’t it - and she seems to have been stubborn, self-hating, arrogant, and all sorts of toxic self-concepts that don’t mix well. Ended up as a bartender in a cheap New York hotel, of all things, then died of the sauce. Damned shame.

Imagine my delight when we meet one of the villains:

 

Yes, Laird Cregar, fat and happy.

As for the plot, it has to do with stolen poison-gas formulas sold to the Axis by that staple of the times, the Bitter Wheelchair-Bound Industrialist. (Cregar is his employee.) To stop the deal and bring down justice, Alan Ladd, the Killer, has to throw his lot in with his country, as well as sacrifice himself for the gal who loves the cop devoted to bringing him in. Tall order, short man:

 

 

The print is quite crisp, and it’s chock full of noir; one of the greatest shots has Ladd running through a trainyard, and it reminds you how . . . well, wooden the world used to be. Also full of steam and smoke.

 

 

This shot has a strange ominous dread - like a subway car full of ghosts in coats. Or, it's Sam Spade's batcave, and those are all his costumes.

 

 

A gas-mask makes for a surreal scene; describing the context would only ruin it:

 

 

 

Verdict: a B movie with A moments. It would be good enough without Lake, but she makes it something else - namely, a movie with Veronica Lake. I'm sure her charms are lost on some, but in a genre full of smoky molls and femme fatales, she provides a rare note of understated kindness.

 

Imperturbably beautiful.