I’m not a Veronica Lake guy. A human charisma sump who nearly torpedoed Sullivan’s Travels, this hairstyle with a mannequin under it sleepwalks through This Gun for Hire as if she’s on gin, or quaaludes, or both. Pair her with Alan Ladd as an antihero with absolutely zero redeeming qualities, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Fortunately, This Gun for Hire features Robert Preston as the police lieutenant out to catch the evil Ladd and save Ms. Lake. Even though the great actor’s forced to recite lines like “I want you to darn my socks for me. To wash my floors and make my corned beef and cabbage,” and even though he’s forced to act like he’s attracted to Lake, there’s no denying his irrepressible charisma. For every moment Lake brings the film to a halt, Preston fires it right back up again and keeps us in the game.
The story? Oh, some noirish nonsense about men in fedoras and doublecrosses and spies and poison gas. It clicks along ok, enlivened by excellent character work from the aforementioned Preston, Marc Lawrence as a henchman who takes particular pride in his work, Laird Cregar as an amorous nightclub owner, and Tully Marshall as the mastermind of the aforementioned spies and poison gas storyline.
One could imagine this movie with Barbara Stanwyck or Lana Turner – what a joy that would have been. Unfortunately, with Veronica Lake front and center, it doesn't quite work. How did this woman get a career, anyway?