This Gun For Hire (1942)

I don’t know why this disc has the second catalogue number in Aztec’s local edition of the Universal Film Noir box when it’s actually the earliest film in the set. Whatever, I watched it first anyway… I always say context is vital to understanding the importance of some films, and this is one of those cases; when you consider the Hays Code prohibited making criminals sympathetic figures, you realise this film was crossing a fairly major line that perhaps isn’t automatically obvious otherwise. Alan Ladd’s hitman may get the justice required in the end served to him out of a policeman’s gun, and Ladd himself may have only been fourth billed in the original poster art, but there’s never any question that he’s the primary figure of interest and we’re supposed to be on his side in his revenge quest: this is wartime, and the real villains are far worse than him, selling secrets to the Japanese as well as just selling him out. As such, the film poses a moral problem that’s easy enough now for us to swallow but which, in 1942, must’ve given the code enforcers some headaches. Still, the film’s presentation of its rather complicated plot is clearer than the ambiguous moral waters it wades in; easy, too, to see why Ladd became an overnight star after years of bit part toil (even if one site I’ve read is right in its not entirely kind suggestion that the main reason he paired up with Veronica Lake was that she was the only actress on the Paramount lot who was even shorter than him).

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