Willard Gates: Don't you trust me?
Philip Raven: Who trusts anybody?
Ruthless killer Philip Raven (Alan Ladd) has just finished a “job”. He has got rid of a blackmailer and he is paid with “hot” money. Willard Gates (Laird Cregor), the man who had hired him is involved in a plot to sell poison gas to the nazis. Gates himself, who is also a night club owner, reports Raven to the police.
Raven, escaping from the police, takes a train to L.A. to revenge from Gates. During the journey he meets Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) a night club artist who is going to perform at Gates’ club. Ellen’s boyfriend (Robert Preston) is a police lieutenant that’s after the killer.
Raven takes Ellen as a hostage and slowly a feeling of sympathy grows between them.
Although they belong to different sides there is a growing complicity between Ellen and Raven. In a way she is a femme fatale who gets involved in the killer's life, but she also redeems him and makes him more humane.
There is an atmosphere of moral ambiguity as the film develops. We progressively see Raven as a victim rather than as a cold-blood killer. He has been an ill-treated, isolated character since his early childhood. Probably that’s why he has a liking for cats: “they don’t need anybody”. He is also highly individualistic:
Ellen Graham: Why don't you go to the police?
Philip Raven: I'm my own police
The film is based on Graham Greene’s novel “A Gun for Sale” and noir style novelist W.R Burnett worked in the script.
We have to highlight J. F. Seitz photography. The dark shots in the gas works and at the freight yard are unforgettable.
Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake’s ambiguous performances are another key point in the film. In fact we are facing one of the classic noir best known couples in their best movie.