This Gun for Fire, released in 1942, technically stars Veronica Lake and Robert Preston. As soon as the film begins, it’s obvious that the real star is Alan Ladd. Ladd plays Raven, a killer for hire with a soft spot for kittens and children. His tough guy act is interesting to watch, but he doesn’t fully come alive until Veronica Lake enters the picture.
The obvious chemistry between Ladd and Lake sets this film apart from other B film crime dramas and completely undermines the flimsy story line of Lake being in love with her police officer fiancé, played by Robert Preston. Like all great film screen couples, Ladd and Lake are more interesting to watch together than they are apart. There’s an easiness between them as if they share an unspoken language. They would go on to star in other films like The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia – the next films in the Kiggins Theatre’s Noir Nights series.
The plot of This Gun for Fire, in typical film noir fashion, is a thicket of plots – deadly chemical formulas, double crosses, $10 stolen from the Treasury Department, a secret government mission. Film noir isn’t for viewers who need a plot that makes sense. These films are more suited for those drawn to mood and shadows and a lack of clarity regarding what is happening and who is to be trusted.
In the Graham Greene novel that inspired this film, Raven (Alan Ladd) has scars on his face that were inflicted by his mother. Paramount Pictures thankfully decided not to mar the pretty face or its rising star. According to his obituary in the New York Times, Ladd’s performance in this film transformed the film gangster, “with his ugly face, gaudy cars, and flashing clothes,” and replaced it with, “a smoother, better looking, and better dressed bad man.” This character also adds some moral ambiguity. He shows kindness to those he perceived as weak and helpless, but has no problem killing people for money. He also shares his troubled childhood and the demons that still haunt his dreams creating a fully realized character that is as sympathetic as he is dangerous.
–Rachel Pinksky, guest curator