The Marchbank Hotel, San Francisco, where a killer bides his time feeding a stray cat, waiting for confirmation of a hit: a time, a place and a name, Albert Baker, who will supposedly be alone. The first complication for Philip Raven is that Baker has company requiring a second bullet, the second is that he soon realises his payoff is in stolen money and the serial numbers have been given to the cops.
Setup to be taken out of the picture by the man who hired him, Willard Gates, Raven plans his revenge but the situation is more complex than a simple double cross, Gates employed by the Nitro Chemical Corporation of Los Angeles which is under covert investigation by the government for suspicion of collaborating with foreign powers.
Their inside agent is singer and stage magician Ellen Graham, recently hired by Gates to perform at his venue, the Neptune Club, but coincidentally her boyfriend happens to be Police Detective Lieutenant Michael Crane, the man who is hunting Raven, though for theft rather than murder, the very man who Ellen finds herself sat beside on the late train from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Adapted by Albert Maltz and W R Burnett from Graham Greene’s 1936 novel A Gun For Sale, director Frank Tuttle’s 1942 film version took the American title of the book, This Gun For Hire, shifting it from a European political thriller to the more accessible locations of California, the concerns of a coming war in the novel having been realised by the attack on Pearl Harbour while the film was in production making the leaking of secret information more pertinent.
Presented on Blu-ray by Eureka as a 4K scan of the original negative, the commentary from Adrian Martin is informative on the substantial changes incurred through the change in the medium, principally in the simplification of Greene’s plot which results in the film version relying heavily on coincidence, though also in physical presence of the character of Raven, described in prose as ugly and repulsive but depicted onscreen by Alan Ladd.
A handsome Hollywood star in waiting, This Gun For Hire was the first time he would appear alongside Veronica Lake whose role as Ellen is central to the story but is performed with a somnambulant emotional range, her two musical numbers lacklustre and her sleight of hand performed with as much editing as flair, their awkward relationship never convincing as other than a necessity of plot yet the success of this film noir formed the basis for several later collaborations.