Two Early Noir Films starring Alan Ladd & Veronica Lake

This Gun for Hire (1942)

Gates: Raven… how do you feel when you’re doing…

[indicates murder headlines]

Gates: this?

Raven: I feel fine.

Hit man Philip Raven (Alan Ladd), who’s kind to kids and stray cats, kills a blackmailer and is paid off by Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) in “hot” $10 bills. A magician and girlfriend of a cop, Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake), is enlisted by a Senator to help investigate Gates, who is an exec at the Nitro Chemical Company. Raven, following Gates to get revenge, meets Ellen on a train from San Fran to LA. They eventually go from killer and potential victim to working together against a common enemy.

Ruby: What’s the matter? You look like you’ve been on a hayride with Dracula.

This tightly edited (81 mins.) early noir is loosely based on This Gun For Hire by Graham Greene. This was one of the earliest American films released in the years of WWII which specifically takes place in wartime; it opened 5 mos. after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The petite/delicate-featured Lake was paired up w/ boyish newcomer Ladd (who was a good match at only 5’6″). The movie bills Lake and Robert Preston above the title, Cregar just below the title, and Ladd last in big type as “Introducing Alan Ladd.” However, Ladd had appeared in 40+ films in unbilled and minor parts.

[1] This is a straight-forward, linear, quick-moving story… …it’s still an entertaining movie, and probably close to required viewing if you enjoy noir and/or Forties movies.

[2] While many period pieces are “appreciated”, this one still provides a jolt of adrenaline right from the opening scene… He’s a bad man, no doubt about it, and his portrayal throughout most of the movie is surprisingly dark, even by today’s standards.

[3] This was Ladd’s breakthrough movie and he’s very good in it. I don’t think he was much of an actor, but he had a lot of star presence, especially in the movies he made in the Forties. There was always something passive but potentially dangerous about him. His looks could have kept him in the pretty boy category, but for whatever reason didn’t.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Johnny: [after being picked up] You gotta have more sense than to take chances with strangers like this.

Joyce: It’s funny but practically all the people were strangers when I met them.

When naval officer Johnny Morrison (Ladd) comes home to LA, he finds his wife, Helen (Doris Dowling), partying and kissing another man, Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva), the owner of The Blue Dahlia nightclub. Helen admits her drunkenness caused a car accident which resulted in the death of their young son. Johnny pushes her around some, then pulls a gun on her, but then runs out. Johnny is picked up by a young woman (Lake) in the rain. Later, Helen is found dead and Johnny becomes the prime suspect. Meanwhile, Johnny’s two war buddies get an apt in town, and then are questioned by the cops.

Elizabeth Short (a young aspiring actress) got the nickname “The Black Dahlia” from a bartender at a Long Beach bar she frequented. This film was playing at a theater down the street, and the bartender got the name wrong. Elizabeth kept the nickname, adding a flower to her hair to complete the transformation. She was murdered the next year (1947). The local newspapers dubbed the case the “Black Dahlia” (the murder case is still unsolved).

Johnny: Every guy’s seen you before somewhere. The trick is to find you.

The screenplay was written by Raymond Chandler; he claimed that producer John Houseman was in “the doghouse” and director George Marshall “was a stale old hack”, so Chandler went on to the Paramount set to direct some of the scenes himself. Chandler was unhappy with Lake’s performance; he called her “Miss Moronica Lake” and complained in a letter: “The only times she’s good is when she keeps her mouth shut and looks mysterious. The moment she tries to behave as if she had a brain she falls flat on her face.” A few scenes were cut b/c he claimed Lake messed up too badly. The ending was changed b/c the Naval War Office objected.

[1]… Bendix steals the show as a G.I. who suffered brain damage in World War II. He is something to see and his wise-cracking lines are some of the best ever delivered in a film noir.

[2] … strikes all the right ultra-tough chords, and although Veronica Lake is a rather wooden actress she is remarkably beautiful and as a team the pair has considerable chemistry [w/ Ladd].

The film cracks along at a rapid pace with plenty of action and a surprise twist or two that will keep you guessing to the very end.

[3] It’s a very bleak tale of returning war veterans’ findings when they reach “home.” Unfaithful wife, hoodlums, and just general corruption and bleakness. The scenes with Veronica Lake are the shafts of light in this one’s blackness.. all in all it conjours up dark images in one’s mind.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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