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This Gun for Hire

After reading Graham Greene’s 1936 novel A Gun for Sale, I watched This Gun for Hire (1942), which is based on the book and stars Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd. Unfortunately, I can't get my hands on Short Cut to Hell (1957), also a black-and-white film noir, also based on Greene’s novel (and the only movie directed by James Cagney).

A Gun for Sale is set in San Francisco during the war and adopts the basic story line of Greene’s novel (set in London and Czechoslovakia): hired killer (Raven) kills, gets paid in stolen notes, the police believe him to be the thief, he’s hunted for this crime while going after the man who double-crossed him, he kind of teams up with a fairly sympathetic girl whose cop boyfriend is after him, and at the end the bullets fly.

One notable difference: Raven’s initial kill in the book is intended to provoke a European war, whereas in the film he takes down a blackmailer and recovers a chemical formula which is to be sold to America’s then-enemy Japan (to make bombs or, as Lake’s character puts it, “Japanese breakfast food for America”).

Reading A Gun for Sale was tough where the prose were choppy. Since it’s not as polished as Greene’s other novels, I figure he wrote it quicker, as a potboiler. But by the same token this gives it an unrefined feel and the intentionally hard-boiled narrative more of an edge. Watching This Gun for Hire was also tough at times, because of Veronica Lake! Her singular charm and looks had me losing focus on the plot. As for Alan Ladd, it was his first major screen appearance, and watching his ferocity and sharp performance, juxtaposed with Lake’s all-around softness, it’s not surprising the pair would be cast together in later noir.


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