I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be present at the start of a huge cultural moment, or at least a huge cinematic moment, such as the first pairing of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. I got a taste of what it must’ve been like during Saturday’s “A” picture, This Gun for Hire. I wonder if Paramount had any inkling of just how popular this pairing would become. (Ladd and Lake made seven pictures together, appearing as themselves in three of them. See listing below.)
Lake is top-billed in This Gun for Hire, followed by Robert Preston. Even on the second screen of credits, you have to go through six names before getting to Ladd’s. The words “and introducing Alan Ladd as Raven” might lead audiences to believe this was the actor’s first film, which was far from the truth: he’d had several bit parts and small roles since 1932.
Eddie Muller stated that Ladd’s characterization of Raven is nothing short of a pivotal moment in film noir. Although Preston was billed as the male lead, people rushed to see This Gun for Hire for the cold-blooded assassin Raven, the quiet loner who cares more for cats than he does people. Audiences identified with the “bad” guy, and watching Ladd and Lake together was like striking a match in a gunpowder factory. The chemistry was undeniable. I wonder how many of the tickets sold for this film in 1942 were repeat viewings?
The plot is fairly straight-forward, nowhere near as convoluted as we would see in some film noir movies later in the classic noir era. Ladd’s Philip Raven is a hired assassin who’s been framed by the man (Laird Cregar) who paid him (in marked bills, no less) for a hit. Several noir themes begin to work their muscles out in this film: spies, Nazi sympathizers, corrupt capitalists, and shadows, always shadows. Yet the film also contains comedy, romance, music, and a bit of nifty magic. The entire package is excellent, but it’s ultimately Ladd and Lake that kept audiences demanding more.
If This Gun for Hire represented a familiar “A” picture, Saturday’s “B” picture was one few attendees had previously seen, including Muller, who’d seen it for the first time last April. Quiet Please, Murder is “a goofy movie in a lot of ways, but greatly entertaining,” said Muller.
George Sanders plays Jim Fleg, a forger who steals a valuable Shakespeare folio and makes authentic-looking copies, selling them for huge profits. Aiding and abetting Fleg is Myra Blandy (Gail Patrick), who finds buyers for Fleg’s forgeries.
Fleg is furious when he discovers Myra has sold a forged copy to Martin Cleaver (Sidney Blackmer), who demands his money back. Yet Myra has something else – something sinister – on her mind.
Much of the film involves a murder in the Los Angeles Public Library, where everyone concerned with the forgery scheme is searching for the priceless folio. Fleg poses as a police investigator who puts the library in lockdown, searching for the folio while pretending to solve the murder, which is just what private detective Hal McByrne (Richard Denning) is trying to do. Or is he trying to woo Myra?
Quiet Please, Murder is a real gem, one that you should definitely seek out if it’s ever screened anywhere near you. It’s also a great performance by Gail Patrick, an actress who “risks being forgotten” and should be a role model for women, according to Muller. Patrick graduated from Howard College, where she also became acting dean of women before completing two years of law school. Just for kicks, she entered a contest for the role of “Miss Panther Woman” in the 1932 movie Island of Lost Souls. She lost the contest, but was offered a contract at Paramount for $50 a week. “Thanks,” she said, “but I’ll take $75.”
from left, Patrick, William Hopper, Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale
Patrick also developed the TV series Perry Mason, sold it to CBS, and became the show’s executive producer, becoming one of TV’s first women producers. Patrick was also named Los Angeles Woman of the Year twice, became the first national chairman of the American Diabetes Association Board of Directors, and much, much more, which you can read about here. It makes you wonder, why has no one written a biography of this woman?
Next time: Day 2, Part II, featuring another great double feature, including one film that rocked everyone’s world at Noir City.
Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake joint appearances, * indicating films they appeared in (briefly) as themselves:
This Gun for Hire (1942)
The Glass Key (1942)
*Star Spangled Rhythm (1942)
*Duffy’s Tavern (1945)
The Blue Dahlia (1946)
* Variety Girl (1947)
Photos: Hamlette’s Soliloquy, Movie Poster Shop, Music Box Theatre, Silver Screen Modes