This Gun for Hire (1942)

80-81 mins | Film noir | 1942

Director:

Frank Tuttle

Cinematographer:

John F. Seitz

Editor:

Archie Marshek

Production Designers:

Hans Dreier, Robert Usher

Production Company:

Paramount Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

Graham Greene's novel was originally published in England as A Gun for Sale , but the title was changed to This Gun for Hire for American publication. Sound recorder Philip Wisdom's first name was spelled "Phillip" in the opening credits. Material in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals the following information: The studio intended to produce the film as early as May 1936, shortly after Greene's novel was purchased for $12,000 in London. The story was also known as "Guns for Sale." Producer A. M. Botsford assigned Dore Schary to write the script and was considering Peter Lorre to play the role of "Raven." Two directors, E. A. Dupont and Robert Florey, were interested in the project, but because of production delays, Florey would not commit to the project. Botsford then began to have second thoughts about casting Lorre, who he felt might deliver a "one-key performance." In Aug 1936, Maurice Geraghty was signed to work on a script with Jack Moffitt, and Botsford considered James Hogan for director. By Oct 1936, two other writers, Thomas Monroe and Robert Wyler, contributed continuities and scripts, but when costs for producing the film appeared to be prohibitive, Botsford abandoned the project and soon after left Paramount.
       The project was taken up again in 1939 and 1940, and for a time, Paramount London considered making the film in Great Britain. Correspondence in the file reveals that in Apr 1940, actor Anthony Quinn and writer Lester Koenig worked on a version of the script, which apparently was rejected. Finally in Jun 1941, Albert Maltz, who wrote the final screenplay with W. R. Burnett, began a ... More Less

Graham Greene's novel was originally published in England as A Gun for Sale , but the title was changed to This Gun for Hire for American publication. Sound recorder Philip Wisdom's first name was spelled "Phillip" in the opening credits. Material in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals the following information: The studio intended to produce the film as early as May 1936, shortly after Greene's novel was purchased for $12,000 in London. The story was also known as "Guns for Sale." Producer A. M. Botsford assigned Dore Schary to write the script and was considering Peter Lorre to play the role of "Raven." Two directors, E. A. Dupont and Robert Florey, were interested in the project, but because of production delays, Florey would not commit to the project. Botsford then began to have second thoughts about casting Lorre, who he felt might deliver a "one-key performance." In Aug 1936, Maurice Geraghty was signed to work on a script with Jack Moffitt, and Botsford considered James Hogan for director. By Oct 1936, two other writers, Thomas Monroe and Robert Wyler, contributed continuities and scripts, but when costs for producing the film appeared to be prohibitive, Botsford abandoned the project and soon after left Paramount.
       The project was taken up again in 1939 and 1940, and for a time, Paramount London considered making the film in Great Britain. Correspondence in the file reveals that in Apr 1940, actor Anthony Quinn and writer Lester Koenig worked on a version of the script, which apparently was rejected. Finally in Jun 1941, Albert Maltz, who wrote the final screenplay with W. R. Burnett, began a story outline, and, according to modern sources, the film was rushed into production to capitalize on the growing popularity of Veronica Lake, who had been chosen as the female lead. Modern sources note that the film was called The Redemption of Raven on the Paramount studio lot. According to HR news items, Paramount considered Charlie Ruggles for a role in the film. On 5 Dec 1941, Alan Ladd, whose blonde hair was dyed black to match the novel's description of Raven, collapsed on the set due to pneumonia and was hospitalized for a week before returning to work. In the interim, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II.
       Information in the MPPA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library reveals that the PCA had reservations about several sequences in the script. "Tommy's" description of his plans to kill "Ellen" were considered "unacceptable as they explain too closely the details of committing a crime." This moment remains in the film, as does the scene in which "Gates" is killed by Raven, although the PCA asked the filmmakers to change Raven's motive for the killing. Instead of killing for revenge, the PCA suggested Raven murder Gates because of his refusal to sign the confession. In the final film, however, Raven kills Gates because he hurt Ellen and then lied that she turned Raven in. The PCA issued a certificate of approval with the condition that the filmmakers delete "the scene of the policeman dying at the hands of the criminal," and "Robert Preston's final line 'He did all right by all of us.'" Although the shooting of the policeman remains in the film, Preston's line was altered. In the final film, as he dies, Raven asks Ellen, "Did I do all right for you?," and she nods silently.
       The song "I'm Amazed at You" (music by Harold Spina and lyrics by Frank Loesser) did not make it into the film, although it was approved by the PCA. The final production cost of the film was $512,423, which was $63,423 over budget. Despite the fact that Alan Ladd received an "and introducing" credit, he had already appeared in bit parts in dozens of films. According to a 1946 SEP interview, Ladd chose Raven as his favorite role, and credits this film with launching his career as a major film star. Contemporary reviews affirm his assertion. DV noted in their review that "the story proves inspirational to a skillful young actor, Alan Ladd, whom, in the killer role, it elevates to the status of stardom; [and] to Frank Tuttle, whose direction restores him to the upper rank of his profession." The NYT review notes: "...Mr. Ladd is the buster; he is really an actor to watch. After this stinging performance, he has something to live up to--or live down." Reviews also noted the acting achievement of Laird Cregar, who was borrowed from Fox, as "masterly." According to a Dec 1947 article in the NYT , the MPAA banned the re-release or reissue of this film and a number of other films produced between 1928 and 1947 due to its objectionable criminal content. The ban was part of a recent move by the MPAA to introduce new, stronger regulations "to prevent the glorification of crime and criminals on the screen."
       Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake became a popular screen couple, and were teamed again in three other Paramount films: The Glass Key (1942), The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Saigon (1948). They also made cameo appearances in Star Spangled Rhythm (1943) and Duffy's Tavern (1945). This Gun for Hire is considered by many modern sources as one of the first important pictures in the "film noir" genre. In 1957, Paramount issued a remake based on Albert Maltz and W. R. Burnett's screenplay called Short Cut to Hell , directed by James Cagney and starring Robert Ivers and Georgann Johnson. Alan Ladd and Laird Cregar reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on 25 Jan 1943, co-starring Joan Blondell. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
21 Mar 1942.
---
Daily Variety
17 Mar 42
p. 3.
Film Daily
23 Mar 42
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
14 May 1936.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Aug 41
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Sep 41
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Oct 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Oct 41
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 41
p. 21.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
21 Mar 42
p. 563.
New York Times
14 May 42
p. 23.
New York Times
4 Dec 1947.
---
The Saturday Evening Post
28 Dec 1946.
---
Variety
18 Mar 42
p. 8.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
And introducing
Charles C. Wilson
Charles R. Moore
Katharine Booth
Fred Walburn
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam boom op
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Prod des
COSTUMES
Miss Lake's gowns by
MUSIC
Mus score
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
DANCE
Asst dance dir
MAKEUP
Dir of makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv for magic tricks
Tech adv for magic tricks
Tech adv for magic tricks
STAND INS
Singing voice double for Veronica Lake
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene (London, 1936).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Now You See It Now You Don't" and "I've Got You," music by Jacques Press, lyrics by Frank Loesser.
DETAILS
Release Date:
1942
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 13 May 1942
Production Date:
27 October--16 December 1941
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
19 June 1942
Copyright Number:
LP11412
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
80-81
Length(in feet):
8,350
Length(in reels):
8
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
7878
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In San Francisco, during World War II, Philip Raven, a cold-blooded hired killer, awakens fully dressed from his late morning sleep to carry out a job. He is to murder Albert Baker, a chemist in possession of Nitrochemical Corporation's formula for poison gas, which he is using to blackmail the Los Angeles-based company. Raven mercilessly kills Baker and his secretary after retrieving the formula, and is paid $20,000 in ten-dollar bills by Willard Gates, an executive for Nitrochemical and an independent nightclub owner. Gates immediately registers the numbers on the bills with the police and claims that Raven stole the $20,000 from Nitrochemical's paymaster. Vacationing Los Angeles police lieutenant Michael Crane is assigned to the case. Coincidentally, Gates hires Michael's fiancée, Ellen Graham, who performs a singing magic act, to work at his Neptune Club in Los Angeles. Both men are unaware that Ellen is working undercover for Senator Burnett to determine Gates's involvement in the sale of the poison gas plans to the enemy. Raven outwits Michael and the police at his boardinghouse and, realizing that Gates has double-crossed him, follows him onto the train to Los Angeles. Ellen is forced to postpone her wedding plans because of her commitment to Burnett, and unwittingly shares her seat on the train to Los Angeles with Raven. When she notices that he has stolen five dollars from her purse, she demands the return of the money, but graciously refrains from turning him in. In the morning, Gates sees Raven and Ellen asleep on the same seat and suspects that they are in collusion with each other. He alerts the Los Angeles police, who then search the disembarking ... +


In San Francisco, during World War II, Philip Raven, a cold-blooded hired killer, awakens fully dressed from his late morning sleep to carry out a job. He is to murder Albert Baker, a chemist in possession of Nitrochemical Corporation's formula for poison gas, which he is using to blackmail the Los Angeles-based company. Raven mercilessly kills Baker and his secretary after retrieving the formula, and is paid $20,000 in ten-dollar bills by Willard Gates, an executive for Nitrochemical and an independent nightclub owner. Gates immediately registers the numbers on the bills with the police and claims that Raven stole the $20,000 from Nitrochemical's paymaster. Vacationing Los Angeles police lieutenant Michael Crane is assigned to the case. Coincidentally, Gates hires Michael's fiancée, Ellen Graham, who performs a singing magic act, to work at his Neptune Club in Los Angeles. Both men are unaware that Ellen is working undercover for Senator Burnett to determine Gates's involvement in the sale of the poison gas plans to the enemy. Raven outwits Michael and the police at his boardinghouse and, realizing that Gates has double-crossed him, follows him onto the train to Los Angeles. Ellen is forced to postpone her wedding plans because of her commitment to Burnett, and unwittingly shares her seat on the train to Los Angeles with Raven. When she notices that he has stolen five dollars from her purse, she demands the return of the money, but graciously refrains from turning him in. In the morning, Gates sees Raven and Ellen asleep on the same seat and suspects that they are in collusion with each other. He alerts the Los Angeles police, who then search the disembarking passengers, looking for a man with a distended wrist, Raven's most distinguishing feature. Raven takes Ellen hostage and eludes the police. Later he plans to shoot her in a condemned building, but is interrupted by a demolition crew, and Ellen escapes. Alvin Brewster, the elderly and powerful owner of Nitrochemical, reprimands Gates for losing Raven and insists that he determine Ellen's connection to the killer. Gates invites Ellen to his Hollywood mansion for dinner that night, and when she innocently lies about her seat partner on the train, he orders his chauffeur, Tommy, to get rid of her. Tommy knocks Ellen out and ties her up, intending to dump her in the river later as a mock suicide. Michael, meanwhile, returns to Los Angeles and, on a tip from a chorus girl, goes to Gates's house looking for Ellen. As Ellen is hidden in a closet, Michael leaves without her, but Raven, who has tracked Gates, knocks Tommy down a flight of stairs and rescues Ellen. Promising she will not be harmed, Raven takes her to the Neptune Club, but is unable to exact his revenge on Gates because Michael is there. Raven then escapes with Ellen, who surreptitiously leaves a trail of her monogrammed playing cards for Michael to follow. The fugitives hide in a shack in the railroad yards surrounded by the police, and form a bond when they each discover how Gates has betrayed them. When a cat comes into the shack, the hardened killer fondles the animal, but is forced to kill it when it nearly gives away their location. Raven reveals to Ellen the abuse he endured as an orphan child, which warped his wrist and led him into a life of crime. Touched, she urges him not to kill Gates, but to help his country by getting a signed confession of Gates's disloyalty. Raven initially resists her suggestion, but, having learned to trust her, agrees to the plan the next morning when she helps him escape. After Raven kills a police officer during his escape, Michael urges a reticent Ellen to reveal her involvement. Although Ellen refuses to speak, Michael correctly guesses that Raven is headed for the Nitrochemical Corp. building. Raven infiltrates the building and holds Brewster, a fifth columnist, and a sniveling Gates hostage, and insists that the traitors sign a written confession. Brewster's heart fails and he dies, and Raven kills Gates before being shot by Michael, who has entered the secured room from a painter's scaffolding. Raven resists killing Michael out of friendship for Ellen and is gunned down by the police. With his last breath, Raven seeks Ellen's assurance that she did not turn him in to the police, and, after receiving her absolution, he dies. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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