“Murder didn’t mean much to Raven. It was just a new job”. These lines open Graham Greene’s novel about an assassin with a cleft lip who is hired to kill a government minister, only to find himself double-crossed by his contractor. Enraged, he seeks revenge while the police are on his tail. Proving adept at translating many of the book’s details to the screen, Tuttle was also chiefly responsible for inventing cinema’s angelic killer, in the way he reshaped the image of the disfigured Raven into a shiningly handsome yet darkly destructive messenger of death. (The action was also transferred from pre-war England to wartime California). Given unprecedented freedom, Tuttle wrote a treatment based on the book, which Paramount obtained upon publication in 1936 but had abandoned as unfilmable. Tuttle also invited the communist writer Albert Maltz to work with him on the script, in what Maltz later called a “harmony of attitudes” – it was his first Hollywood assignment. And it was Tuttle who chose the unknown Alan Ladd for the leading role, sparing Raven any shocking disfigurement (only giving him a mild limp and a deformity of the wrist) yet revealing his dark past and violent persona without compromise. The film intensifies the latter by showing Raven killing a cop and strangling a cat. This unplanned shift of the film’s weight on to Raven displeased co-star Veronica Lake, adding to her estrangement from both Tuttle and Ladd. Despite the tensions on the set, the chemistry between the leading actors was clear to see when the dailies were viewed, so much so that they were cast in The Glass Key (Stuart Heisler) – the second of the four films in which they starred together – before This Gun opened in May 1942 to enormous success. Among the various tributes and remakes the most sublime remains Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï, whose placid killer is a reminder of how deeply rooted in filmic memory Tuttle’s creation of a new anti-hero for American cinema has become.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal romanzo A Gun for Sale (Una pistola in vendita, 1936) di Graham Greene. Scen.: Albert Maltz, W.R. Burnett. F.: John F. Seitz. M.: Archie Marshek. Scgf.: Hans Dreier, Robert Usher. Mus.: David Buttolph. Int.: Alan Ladd (Philip Raven), Veronica Lake (Ellen Graham), Robert Preston (Michael Crane), Laird Cregar (Willard Gates), Tully Marshall (Alvin Brewster), Marc Lawrence (Tommy). Prod.: Richard M. Blumenthal per Paramount Pictures. DCP
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