This Gun for Hire

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For other uses, see This Gun for Hire (album).
This Gun for Hire
This Gun For Hire movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Frank Tuttle
Produced by Richard Blumenthal
Screenplay by Albert Maltz
W.R. Burnett
Story by Graham Greene
Starring Veronica Lake
Robert Preston
Laird Cregar
Alan Ladd
Music by David Buttolph
Cinematography John Seitz
Edited by Archie Marshek
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • May 13, 1942 (1942-05-13) (United States)
Running time
80 minutes
Country United States
Language English

This Gun for Hire is a 1942 film noir, directed by Frank Tuttle and based on the novel A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene. The film stars Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, and Alan Ladd.[1]


In wartime San Francisco, chemist and blackmailer Albert Baker (Frank Ferguson) is killed by remorseless hit man Raven (Alan Ladd), who recovers a stolen chemical formula. Raven is double-crossed by his employer, Willard Gates (Laird Cregar), who pays him with marked bills and reports them to the Los Angeles Police as stolen from his company, Nitro Chemical. Raven learns of the set up and decides to get revenge. LAPD detective lieutenant Michael Crane (Robert Preston), vacationing in San Francisco to visit his girlfriend and nightclub entertainer Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake), is immediately assigned the case but Raven eludes an attempt at capture.

Meanwhile, Gates is set up to hire Ellen to work in his LA nightclub. She is taken to a clandestine meeting with Senator Burnett (Roger Imhof), where she learns that Gates and Nitro Chemical are under secret investigation as suspected traitors, and is recruited to spy on Gates. Gates and Ellen board a train for Los Angeles, followed by Raven. By chance, the first empty seat Raven can find is beside Ellen's. The next morning, Gates is alarmed when he sees them asleep with Raven's head on her shoulder. He wires ahead to alert the police, but Raven forces Ellen at gunpoint to help him elude them again. He is about to kill her but is interrupted by workmen, allowing Ellen to flee. She tries to contact Crane, but he has left San Francisco to return to LA.

That evening the suspicious Gates invites Ellen to his Hollywood mansion, where his chauffeur Tommy (Marc Lawrence) knocks her unconscious to set up a fake suicide. Crane goes to the mansion looking for Ellen but Gates has already left. While Crane questions Tommy, Raven arrives and hides outside, where he sees Tommy discard Ellen's purse, to keep Crane from spotting it. Raven realizes that Ellen is in danger. After Crane leaves, Raven knocks Tommy down a flight of stairs when the chauffeur denies Ellen is still there. Raven searches the house and rescues her. Tommy recovers and warns Gates at his club, where Crane has caught up with him. Raven and Ellen are confronted as they enter the club, so Raven takes her hostage as he flees. She surreptitiously drops monogrammed playing cards as a trail of "breadcrumbs". The police corner them in a railroad yard but wait for daylight to move in.

Raven reveals to Ellen that he was orphaned at a young age and raised by an aunt who beat him until he snapped one day and killed her, for which he was imprisoned in reform school. She tells him that the formula he recovered was for a poison gas that Nitro is selling to the Japanese and begs him to extract a signed confession instead of killing Gates. Ellen helps Raven escape the dragnet, hoping she has appealed to his patriotism. However he breaks his promise to her and kills a policeman to get away.

Raven arrives as Nitro Chemical conducts a gas attack drill and its employees wear gas masks, obscuring their faces. Gates orders Tommy to guard his door. However Tommy spots Raven and gives chase, but is knocked out. Raven disguises himself in Tommy's uniform and gas mask to surprise Gates, forcing him to take him to company president Alvin Brewster (Tully Marshall), the criminal mastermind. Raven barricades himself with them when the police and Ellen arrive, and coerces both into signing a confession. Brewster dies of a heart attack while trying to kill Raven, who then cold-bloodedly shoots Gates. Crane is lowered on a scaffold and exchanges gunfire with Raven, wounding him. Raven passes up the opportunity to kill Crane when he sees Ellen helping the detective. Other police fatally shoot Raven, but he lives long enough to assure Ellen that he got the confession and receive her assurance that she did not turn him in.



Graham Greene's novel This Gun for Hire was published in the U.S. in 1936 and several movie studios considered obtaining rights to the book, including 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures.[a] Paramount bought the rights in 1936 and announced Gertrude Michael as a possible star.[2] Later that year the cast was announced as being Akim Tamiroff, Ray Milland and Ida Lupino with Dore Schary writing the script.[3] However the film would not be made for several more years. It was reactivated in 1941 with Frank Tuttle attached as director.[4]

Veronica Lake was announced early as a female lead with Macdonald Carey - who had been signed by Paramount following his appearance on Broadway in Lady in the Dark - mooted as a possible male lead.[5] By September Alan Ladd had been signed to a long term Paramount contract and was cast in the key role of Raven.[6] Robert Preston was given the other main role, replacing Carey.


Ladd received fourth billing. Because of fan reaction and critical praise, the film made him a star.[7] Bosley Crowther, the critic for The New York Times, wrote that while the actors credited ahead of him gave good performances, "Mr. Ladd is the buster; he is really an actor to watch. After this stinging performance, he has something to live tip [sic] to—or live down."[8]

Crowther characterized the film itself as a "fast and exciting melodrama."[8]

Lake's star was rising rapidly due to her performances in the 1941 films I Wanted Wings and Sullivan's Travels. This Gun for Hire was a big box office success when released and Lake's other films of 1942, The Glass Key and I Married a Witch were also box office hits.


This Gun For Hire was adapted as a radio play on the January 25, 1943 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater and the April 2, 1945 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater. Alan Ladd reprised his role in both adaptations while Veronica Lake reprised in the latter, but was replaced with Joan Blondell in the former.

In 1957 Paramount Pictures adapted the story as Short Cut to Hell, directed by James Cagney. The film was Cagney's only directorial effort.


  1. ^ Two first edition copies of the novel—one from Twentieth Century Fox's Research Library and one from Paramount Picture's Story Department—are held in a private collection of the works of Graham Greene. Each copy bears the respective studio's file copy library stamps, and the Paramount copy includes the film's original studio project number.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Jerome Kern, Noted Composer, Renounces Broadway Stage for Work in Movies: Opportunities Now Found With Screen "A Gun For Sale," War Story, to Be Filmed With Gertrude Michael Considered for Lead; Brisson Leaving Town Today Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 19 May 1936: 17.
  3. ^ NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Don Marquis and Friends Sell a Play -- Akim Tamiroff A New Sherlock for the Screen. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 22 Aug 1936: 6.
  4. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: David Selznick Is Negotiating Deal to Join United Artists With Frank Capra TWO FILMS OPEN TODAY There's Magic in Music' at the Criterion and Central Will Show 'Naval Academy' By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILLSpecial to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 04 June 1941: 27.
  5. ^ Need for Exploitation of Film Product Told: Gaynor Plans Stage Debut Stardom Urged for Actor Gene Tierney Gets Lead Cowan Turns Lobbyist MacDonald Carey Cast Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 Aug 1941: A10.
  6. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: ' Pied Piper,' Novel by Nevil Shute, Purchased by Fox -- Harold Shuster to Direct RIALTO FILM IS HELD OVER ' Badlands of Dakota' to Begin a Second Week -- Swedish Program Opens Today By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILLBy Telephone to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 13 Sep 1941: 21.
  7. ^ The Gent Is Alan Ladd, the Calculating Trigger-Man in 'This Gun for Hire' By JOHN R. FRANCHEY. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 07 June 1942: X4.
  8. ^ a b Bosley Crowther (May 14, 1942). "This Gun for Hire (1942)". The New York Times. 

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