Monday, May 16, 2022

Four Noir Films from Ladd and Lake


It's National Classic Movie Day today! Not only that, but Classic Film & TV Cafe is hosting the Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon today to celebrate -- read this post of theirs for links to all the participants.

For this event, I will be sharing some thoughts about the four noir films that Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake starred together in.  I have fully reviewed all four of these previously, so I will link to those individual reviews as we go, too.


This Gun for Hire (1942) was Alan Ladd's big break.  In it, he plays a baby-faced killer, Raven, a type that became very popular after this movie.  Ladd brought such a powerful mixture of innocent charm and remorseless violence to the role that it became obvious to the filmmakers that they had a new star on their hands.


Hitman Raven is double-crossed by his employer (Laird Cregar) at the beginning of the movie, and he spends the rest of the story gathering evidence so he can get revenge.  It just so happens that the heroine, Ellen (Veronica Lake), is gathering evidence of a very different sort about the same man to help the authorities catch him for selling military secrets to America's enemies.



Veronica Lake's star was on the rise when she made This Gun for Hire, as she'd just made a big splash with Sullivan's Travels the year before.  She has a sweet charm, not the sultry sort we find in noir so often, which makes her kind of refreshing.  Her character Ellen is not a femme fatale, but a good girl trying to do the right thing in a tough situation.


Ellen and Raven technically don't fall in love.  They do eventually form a tentative friendship, but it's short-lived.  Still, they get some wonderful scenes together, and Ladd and Lake had very good chemistry.  So, the studio rushed to put together another film for them to star opposite each other in.


The Glass Key (1942) capitalizes on the antagonistic chemistry that sizzled between Ladd and Lake.  It's based on a hardboiled detective novel by Dashiell Hammett (read my review of the book here) that had been made into a movie once before, in 1935, starring George Raft.

The story revolves around Paul Madvig, a criminal organizer (Brian Donlevy) who decides to enter politics.  He falls in love with wealthy socialite Janet Henry (Veronica Lake), but she scorns him while secretly admiring his right-hand man Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd).  When Janet's brother is murdered, both men fall under suspicion for the killing, and only one of them has the brains and guts to figure out the truth.



Alan Ladd carries his first real starring role pretty well, though I sometimes get the sense that he was feeling a lot of pressure to act extra tough and extra cool in this.  


Ed Beaumont's nemesis is a thug named Jeff played by William Bendix. While shooting one altercation early in filming, Bendix failed to fully pull a punch and knocked Ladd cold.  That may sound like a weird basis for starting a friendship, but the two of them became fast friends and were close for years and years after.


Veronica Lake plays aloof and skeptical for most of the film, which is very different from her earnest and kind character in This Gun for Hire.  She pulls off the role just fine, letting us see her interest in Ladd's character even while she pretends to disdain him.


Lake and Ladd's characters do get to exchange some combatively romantic dialog, but their love story isn't exactly central to the movie's plot.  That would change in their next outing together.


The Blue Dahlia (1946) does give Ladd and Lake a romantic pair to play.  But, even here, their romance is a by-product of the plot, it doesn't fuel it.  


Three military buddies freshly mustered out of the military return stateside to resume their normal lives.  Buzz (William Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont) were part of the bomber crew led by Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd).  Though George and Johnny bear no physical effects from their time in service, Buzz had a head injury that has left him moody and unpredictable.

George and Buzz set off to find an apartment together, but Johnny has a wife and a home to go to.  The only trouble is, his wife (Doris Dowling) is a party animal who's cheating on him with a nightclub owner (Howard da Silva).  When the wife ends up dead, Johnny is suspected of murdering her and has to race to clear his name.  He inadvertently meets up with the nightclub owner's estranged wife Joyce (Veronica Lake), and the two share some sympathetic moments before they learn how their lives have already been tangled up thanks to their unfaithful spouses.



Ladd is in top form in The Blue Dahlia.  He spits out angry one-liners while letting you see the ache behind the anger at the same time.  His character is a man displaced, a misfit who changed so much during the war he doesn't know where he belongs anymore.  Ladd gives him a desperate edge that keeps the audience guessing as to whether or not he did kill his wife, right up to the end.  But he also projects this innate kindness and decency that makes you really hope he didn't do it.


Veronica Lake plays one of only two thoroughly upright, good characters in the whole movie.  She's a good girl in a bad marriage, but she hasn't let it harden or roughen her, which clues the audience in as to just how strong she is inside.


Lake and Ladd's characters don't get to do much more than yearn for each other and trade snappy dialog for the bulk of the film, but the audience has no trouble believing they will see a lot more of each other after the story ends.

In fact, the two of them are so good together that it's a shame they only made one more movie together after this one.


Saigon (1947) is the only one of these four movies not readily available on DVD right now.  I hope that will change!  You can sometimes catch it on TV, at least.

This is another tale of three military friends after the war, one of whom is not physically well.  Major Briggs (Alan Ladd) and Sergeant Rocco (Wally Cassell) are keeping a terrible secret from their buddy, Captain Perry (Douglas Dick):  he has a brain condition that could kill him any day.

The three of them use their flying skills to make money flying cargo planes around Southeast Asia for basically anyone who needs something flown somewhere.  They take a job flying a rich guy and his secretary Susan (Veronica Lake) to Saigon but, thanks to a last-minute gunfight, only the secretary catches the plane.  Perry promptly falls in love with Susan, and Briggs does too. Briggs won't admit he's in love to anyone, including himself, but Perry turns into a lovesick puppy.  Susan learns about the brain injury and is kind to Perry, and she is definitely not attracted to Briggs because he is mean and crabby, and never says nice things to her.  Definitely not attracted.  As you can see from the production photos here.

A whole plot involving smuggling ensues, just to keep things interesting.  Saigon is generally classified as film noir, but it's the least noir of these four, in my opinion.  But it's still a really fun ride.



Although their characters spend most of the film distrusting each other, snapping at each other, and generally being as unpleasant to each other as they can, you can always feel the crackle of attraction between Ladd and Lake's characters.  The best part of this movie is watching their scenes together, two total pros who know exactly how to bring out the best in each other.


Although the characters they're playing aren't my favorite pair of the four pairs they play, I think Lake and Ladd are the most fun to watch in this one.  They're clearly very comfortable with each other, after making three movies together before this, and that lets them both relax and turn in awesome, confident performances.


Plus, they get a Really Good Kiss in Saigon :-)  That doesn't hurt at all.

I hope you've enjoyed this little collection of my thoughts on these four films.  Happy National Classic Movie Day!  I don't know how you plan to celebrate, but I'll be watching Alan Ladd play The Great Gatsby (1949) with a friend this evening...

32 comments:

  1. What great choices! Alan Ladd is always a good noir star. The only one I haven't seen is Saigon, and not for lack of trying. But you mentioned that it's not on DVD, and that may be why I've missed it so far. I'll keep trying, of course!

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    1. Glad you liked this, Marianne :-) You can find grey-market copies of Siagon fairly easily, and they're watchable, just not awesome. You know, a DVD transfer from a VHS tape someone recorded off TV thirty years ago, that kind of thing. But we'll keep hoping for a legit and lovely release!

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  2. This Gun Fire for Hire is my favorite of the Ladd-Lake film noirs. It had me hooked from the moment Raven takes in a stray kitten and feeds it milk--then slaps the maid later for shooing the cat away. Here is a man that is ruthless, but with a morsel of humanity buried deep inside. However, The Blue Dahlia is almost as good. I love the little touches like a thug knocking out Johnny, spotting a nice pen in his pocket, and taking it.

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    1. Rick29, This Gun for Hire is probably the best of the four, tbh. I go back and forth between liking it and Blue Dahlia best. Raymond Chandler is my favorite author, and he wrote the screenplay for Dahlia, which makes it extra special to me, but man, there's just something so appealing about TGFH.

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  3. I'll never get over how gorgeous Veronica Lake is. Also, Alan looks particularly handsome in that second-to-last screenshot. <333

    I've seen two of these: This Gun for Hire and The Blue Dahlia. I started watching The Glass Key, but I was pretty confused as to what was going on with the plot. Might try it again someday though.

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    1. Eva, she's like a sculpture come to life, isn't she? Classically beautiful.

      That one where he's reading the letter? My goodness, he's so smirky and cute there :-D

      The Glass Key is confusing. Don't feel bad. As I said in my review, it's kind of a convoluted and tangled plot -- I think I really finally figured out what's going on in it when I was watching it for the third time. If you want to watch it together sometime so I can explain stuff here and there, you know I would not mind that. Or you could read the book! I quite liked it.

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  4. I love that you chose Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake pairings for the blogathon. A couple of these I haven't seen for a loooong time, and your overviews have convinced me to cancel tonight's plans for a re-watch.

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    1. Thanks, Anonymous! I'm so glad it inspired you to pull one of these out and rewatch it :-) They are all worth many viewings!

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  5. Wow - Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake were certainly an awesome noir couple. So clever of you to highlight their films together for this post. I've not seen Saigon, but I guess I should, right? Loved your post - nicely done!

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    1. Thanks, Flick Chick! It was a pretty easy idea to come up with, given my obsession with Alan Ladd :-)

      Saigon isn't hard to find gray-market copies of, but they tend to be kinda grainy and meh -- DVD copies of VHS copies recorded of TV long ago, you know? Still, it's a movie worth seeing, and I really hope someone releases a good-quality, legit version. We need it!

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  6. I love that you focused your four choices on Ladd and Lake! I've never seen Saigon, but I hope I get the chance one of these days. Of the other three, The Blue Dahlia has always been my favorite, but they're all first-rate. Great post!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed this, Karen! Yeah, Saigon needs to be released to DVD already -- it's such an enjoyable one.

      I go back and forth on if Blue Dahlia or This Gun for Hire is my favorite of these. I love them both!

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  7. I really enjoyed this, Rachel! You've inspired me to revisit Ladd and Lake, as it's been much too long since doing so. Love that last picture you included...so dreamy.

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    1. Thanks, Muse! I'm excited I've inspired you to watch some Ladd and Lake :-) That last picture is just... inspiring, isn't it? Wow.

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  8. So happy to see this post, Rachel! Yay for Ladd & Lake - nice job weaving in some of their backstories.

    I thought Saigon is underrated when I saw it a few years ago, and a good pairing of the two (I also liked Calcutta with Alan and Gail Russell, but that's for another day). The Blue Dahlia might be the most 'noir' feeling, at least for me.

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    1. Jocelyn, I'm glad you enjoyed this :-D I had a good time trying to distill the stories and performances, and weaving in their careers too.

      Saigon needs to be readily available because it is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. And I like Calcutta a lot! In fact, it was my favorite new-to-me movie that I watched last year.

      Of these four, Dahlia is definitely the most truly noir, I agree.

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  9. One or two weeks ago I watched This Gun for Hire again, which really is my favorite of the three (never having watched "Saigon"). Would you believe it, I had a slightly nasty altercation on a Noir fb group site with a guy who actually described the maid who shooed the poor kitten away with her mop as "she had guts", she dared to confront the killer etc. When I half jokingly replied that I'd probably also slap a person who viciously attacked a tiny kitten (slap, not beating to a pulp), the guy got really angry and went on and on defending the oh so gutsy maid. That was one weird exchange on fb... But rewatching TGFH was pure joy.

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    1. Andrea, yeah, I can believe that altercation happened -- that whole opening scene is so packed with emotional tension, setting Raven up as sympathetic but also vicious. I wouldn't call the maid gutsy, though, since she doesn't know Raven's a killer! To her, he's another random dude too poor to live somewhere better, and he's letting stray animals in, which could lead to more work for her, so she lashes out pretty instinctually. That's not gutsy, to me, but... to each his own?

      Every rewatch of these four is a joy. I hope you can see Saigon soon!

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  10. Is it bad not seen any of these... I know you love tags, you should check out Gabriela from Pale Writer's Alan Ladd tag

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    1. Gill, yes, it IS bad, lol! I would say of these, the must-see is This Gun for Hire, as it's pretty formative for the genre since it popularized the "sensitive killer" trope.

      Thanks for the heads up on a Ladd tag from Pale Writer -- I remember she hosted a blogathon for him a few years ago, but I don't remember seeing a tag on her blog, so I will look for that!

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  11. I wondered who would pick a specific noir theme to write about and ran into this post. This is a terrific spotlight on the films of a terrific screen couple. Thank you for your insights.

    Aurora

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    1. Aurora, I was actually kind of surprised more people didn't go with a theme -- but maybe I'm just a thematic sort of person? Glad you enjoyed this post :-)

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  12. What a great idea to focus on Lake and Ladd--so many great movies to choose from. I've heard good things about "The Glass Key."

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    1. Glad you enjoyed this, Rebecca :-) The Glass Key is kind of an oddball movie in some ways -- it took me like 3 watches just to figure out what was going on in it, which usually isn't a problem for me, lol. But once I got it figured out, I started to love it.

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  13. As much as I like Ladd, Lake and Noir, I had my problems with both "Glass Key" and "Blue Dahlia". Even after 3 or more watches I'm not sure I completely figured out what was going on in "Glass Key". Ladd's role is ambiguous; why would he go to his boss' enemy (super grass? nope, and then being beaten to a pulp?!) – and Brian Donlevy's "politician" is slightly over the top... And the problems with "Blue Daliah" are well known – a very tipsy Raymond Chandler wanted another ending, was stopped and forced to present a (to me...) deus ex machina thing. So "This Gun for Hire" is definitely the best of these for me. However, the Ladd-Lake duo is always a pleasure to watch.

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    1. Andrea, yes, Glass Key is very convoluted. I read the book by Dashiell Hammett last year, and it is a little clearer... but not much. And yes, the ending of Dahlia works, but only just.

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  14. Does it take a while for comments to show? Sometimes it does, sometimes not. Bit confusing. Is it you who decides to check the comments first or is it the software? (Am not a digital native, as you can see.)

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    1. Andrea, I have both of my blogs set to "moderate" comments on any post more than 7 days old, which means they don't appear until I say they can. Most spam comments show up on older posts, and that lets me weed them out much more easily.

      So if you post a comment and it doesn't appear right away, check and see if the post is more than a week old. If it is, then you know it's just waiting for me to okay it.

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  15. Hello, couple of links... and both invites,
    Bond Girl Blogathon https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/2022/05/21/other-than-a-bond-girl/

    Alan Ladd Tag
    https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/collaborations/film-fun/films-mad-about-ladd-tag/

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    1. Thanks for the links, Gill! I had found that Ladd tag when you mentioned it before, but then my browser froze and I lost it before I could copy it over. I will not make that mistake again! Copying it now!

      And thanks for the invite -- I am hosting a blog event later in July, but if I think I will have time for a post for your blogathon, I will definitely join!

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    2. Now you have me intrigued... Will be back...

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    3. Gill, I'll give you a hint or two: it's an annual event that I co-host with a couple friends that revolves around the Wild West. We'll be announcing it officially in about a week...

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