This Gun for Hire

This Gun for Hire is a 1942 American crime drama film directed by Frank Tuttle and starring Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, and Alan Ladd. It is a film noir based on the 1936 novel (published in America with the same title, and in Britain with the title A Gun for Sale) by Graham Greene.[4]

This Gun for Hire
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrank Tuttle
Produced byassociate
Richard Blumenthal
Screenplay byAlbert Maltz
W.R. Burnett
Based onnovel A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene
StarringVeronica Lake
Robert Preston
Laird Cregar
Alan Ladd
Music byDavid Buttolph
CinematographyJohn Seitz
Edited byArchie Marshek
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • May 13, 1942 (1942-05-13) (New York City)
Running time
81 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budgetless than $500,000[1] or $512,423.16[2]
Box office$1 million (US rentals)[3]


In contemporary wartime San Francisco, chemist and blackmailer Albert Baker is killed by hit man Philip Raven, who recovers a stolen chemical formula. Raven is double-crossed by his employer, Willard Gates who pays him with marked bills and reports them to the Los Angeles Police Department as stolen from his company, Nitro Chemical Corporation of Los Angeles. Raven learns of the setup and decides to get revenge. Police Detective Lieutenant Michael Crane, who is vacationing in San Francisco to visit his girlfriend, nightclub singer Ellen Graham, is immediately assigned the case. He goes after Raven, but the assassin eludes him.

Meanwhile, Gates hires Ellen to work in his Los Angeles nightclub after an audition where she sings and performs magic. Then she is taken to a clandestine meeting with Senator Burnett, where she learns that Gates and Nitro Chemical are under investigation as suspected traitors, and is recruited to spy on Gates. Unknown to each other, she and Gates board a train for Los Angeles, followed by Raven. By chance, Raven and Ellen sit next to each other. 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. From Gates's club, she tries to contact Crane, but he has left San Francisco to return to Los Angeles.

That evening the suspicious Gates invites Ellen to his Hollywood mansion, where his chauffeur Tommy knocks her unconscious to set up a fake suicide. Tipped off by Ellen's friend at the club, Crane goes to the mansion looking for Ellen but Gates has already left. Tommy tells Crane that Ellen has been gone for two hours. While Crane questions Tommy, and makes a phone call to Ellen's hotel, 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 abusive aunt. One day, he snapped while she was beating him and killed her, for which he was imprisoned in reform school; there, he was abused by the other children. 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 who had almost managed to capture him, in order 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. Tommy spots Raven and gives chase, but Raven knocks him out. Raven disguises himself in Tommy's uniform and gas mask to surprise Gates, forcing him to take him to company president Alvin Brewster, the mastermind of the treasonous Nitro sale. 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 kills 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 be assured by Ellen that she did not turn him in and that he succeeded in getting the confession.




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. These included 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures.[lower-alpha 1] Paramount bought the rights in 1936, and announced Gertrude Michael as a possible star.[5] Later that year, the cast was announced as being Akim Tamiroff, Ray Milland and Ida Lupino with Dore Schary writing the script.[6]

However, the film would not be made for several more years. It was reactivated in 1941, with Frank Tuttle assigned as director.[7]


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.[8] Tuttle had some difficulty casting the part of Raven. He later claimed that he looked at six stars, but none were suitable.[9] (One of them was Alan Baxter).[10] Alan Ladd screen tested. By September, he had been cast and signed to a long-term Paramount contract.[11]

Robert Preston was given the other main role, replacing Carey.[12] Lake and Preston were given above-the-title star billing, with Ladd given an "and introducing" credit. However, it was clear during filming that Ladd would be the breakout star. Shortly afterwards, The New York Times reported that:

Tuttle and the studio are showing more than a passing enthusiasm for Ladd. He has been trying to get a foothold in pictures for eight years but received no encouragement although he tried every angle known to town - extra work, bit parts, stock contracts, dramatic schools, assault of the casting offices. Sue Carol, the former silent star who is now an agent, undertook to advance the youth's career two years ago and only recently could she locate an attentive ear. Then the breaks began.[13]

Before This Gun for Hire was even completed, Paramount announced that their next film for Ladd would launch him as a star. It was to be a version of The Glass Key (also 1942).[14]

The film features Yvonne de Carlo in an early role. She has one line, "Cigarette, sir?", in the Neptune Club scene. Making the film caused her to be fired from her job dancing for Earl Carroll.[15]


Although Ladd only received fourth billing, the film made him a star, due to fan reaction and critical praise.[16]


Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, wrote a rave review:

One shudders to think of the career which Paramount must have in mind for Alan Ladd, a new actor, after witnessing the young gentleman's debut as a leading player in that studio's This Gun for Hire... Obviously, they have tagged him to be the toughest monkey loose on the screen. For not since Jimmy Cagney massaged Mae Clarke's face with a grapefruit has a grim desperado gunned his way into cinema ranks with such violence as does Mr. Ladd in this fast and exciting melodrama. Keep your eye peeled for this Ladd fellow; he's a pretty-boy killer who likes his work... Mr. Ladd is the buster; he is really an actor to watch. After this stinging performance, he has something to live up to—or live down.[17]

The Los Angeles Times wrote that "to say the film is a success is an understatement."[18]

Albert Maltz, who worked on the script, later said "it was a very creaky melodrama - in my opinion, pretty second rate. It doesn't stand up at all and I just don't know why it was so successful in the way it was."[19]

Box office

According to Ladd's biographer, the film ended up making $12 million.[1] However Variety puts the film's rentals for 1942 at $1 million.[3]



This Gun For Hire was adapted as a radio play on the July 3, 1942, broadcast of Philip Morris Playhouse with Marlene Dietrich starring,[20] 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.


Paramount Pictures later adapted the story as Short Cut to Hell (1957), directed by James Cagney, his only directorial effort.

In 1978 Tony Richardson announced he intended to remake the film, however no movie resulted.[21] The film was remade as a TV movie in 1991 by Lou Antonio, starring Nancy Everhard and Robert Wagner.[22]


  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. Beverly Linet, Ladd: A Hollywood Tragedy, p. 67
  2. Mank, Gregory William (2018). Laird Cregar: A Hollywood Tragedy. McFarland.
  3. "101 Pix Gross in Millions". Variety. 6 January 1943. p. 58.
  5. Edwin Schallert (19 May 1936). "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". Los Angeles Times.
  6. "News of the Screen: Don Marquis and Friends Sell a Play -- Akim Tamiroff A New Sherlock for the Screen". The New York Times. 22 August 1936.
  7. Douglas W. Churchill (4 June 1941). "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'". New York Times.
  8. Ediwn Schallert (27 August 1941). "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". Los Angeles Times.
  9. Melrose Gower (17 September 1942). "Screen Tests All or Nothing, According to Circumstances". The Washington Post.
  10. "Hedda Hopper Picks the Stars of 1947". Chicago Daily Tribune. 5 Jan 1947.
  11. Douglas W. Churchill (13 September 1941). "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". New York Times.
  12. "Screen News Here and in Hollywood: Robert Preston Is Selected by Paramount Studio for Lead in 'This Gun for Hire' 8 New Films This Week ' Our Wife,' 'Ice-Capades' Due on Wednesday, 'Lady Be Good', 'Lydia' on Thursday".
  13. Douglas W. Churchill (12 October 1941). "Signing on the Lawn: Mr. Selznick Joins United Artists at Pickfair Meet -- More Hollywoodiana". New York Times.
  14. Edwin Schallert (31 October 1941). "Warners Cement Deal for Rogers' Biography: Alan Ladd Build-up Set Stars Named for 'Harvest' 20th Bids for De Fore 'Sunday Punch' Slated Rita Piazza to Do Play". Los Angeles Times.
  15. De Carlo, Yvonne; Warren, Doug (1987). Yvonne : an autobiography. St Martins Press. p. 62.
  16. John R. Franchey (7 June 1942). "The Gent Is Alan Ladd, the Calculating Trigger-Man in 'This Gun for Hire'". The New York Times.
  17. Bosley Crowther (May 14, 1942). "This Gun for Hire (1942)". The New York Times.
  18. Norbert Lusk (25 May 1942). "Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake 'Discovered' by Critics". Los Angeles Times.
  19. Maltz, Albert (1983). The citizen writer in retrospect oral history transcript. University of California. p. 1083.
  20. "Marlene Dietrich Has Star Role in Playhouse Drama". Harrisburg Telegraph. June 27, 1942. p. 25. Retrieved August 6, 2015 via
  21. Gregg Kilday (25 October 1978). "Film Clips: Melnick Resigns Columbia Post". Los Angeles Times.
  22. "This Gun For Hire (1991 TV Movie)". IMDb. Retrieved 5 December 2019.

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