Movie Critique - The Glass Key

Stars: 4 / 5

Recommendation: A realistic film noir with a touch of psychosis; a shade of humor; depth of matters of heart; and motivations that are so muddled we see betrayals and honor fighting with each other till the very end.

The Glass Key is a 1942 American crime drama film noir directed by Stuart Heisler, produced by Fred Kohlmar with uncredited support by Buddy G. DeSylva; and released by Paramount Pictures. The film stars Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, Richard Denning, Bonita Granville, Joseph Calleia and William Bendix among others. 

Paul Madvig (portrayed by Brian Donlevy), a shady political boss falls in love with Janet Henry (portrayed by Veronica Lake), daughter of reform candidate for governor, Ralph Henry. But Paul's right hand man Ed Beaumont (portrayed by Alan Ladd) doesn’t believe Janet and Ralph's motives. But Janet falls for Ed instead. And more trouble surfaces around them in the form of relatives, family, friends and foe alike; leading to murder, political corruption, betrayal and heartbreaks.

The film was based on the 1931 novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, the creator of hard-boiled detective Sam Spade; and amateur husband-and-wife detective pair Nick and Nora Charles. This was supposed to be a follow-up to his 1930 detective book The Maltese Falcon. Screenplay was written by Jonathan Latimer. The opening credits are shown over a picture of a glass key signifying the name of the film. Checkout the theatrical poster that Eddie Muller shared on TCM right before the film was aired. 

The film comes with some top radio greats from old time radio shows - Donlevy, Lake and Ladd - in the lead. It was an eye pleasure to watch my favorite radio artists in action too. Accidents are normal to happen on sets. However one particular accident in this film lead to a life-long friendship.

In a fight scene between Bendix's Jeff and Ladd's Ed, Bendix accidentally hit Ladd for real and knocked him unconscious. And that resulted in a life-long friendship between them, so much so that they even bought their homes across to each other. Their friendship was tested time and again, but prevailed and stayed strong. In the end when Ladd died of accidental overdose in January of 1964 it broke Bendix deeply, and his health failed quickly leading to his death in December of the same year. 

As for Ladd creating a legacy with another one of his co-star, Veronica Lake, resulted in seven films. The first one being the 1942 American film noir This Gun For Hire that captured the cool sexy and calculated chemistry between them paving for six more movies. They came very close to becoming what William Powell and Myrna Loy became in the 30s and early 40s - a much loved pair of actors who sizzled on the screen and fired with dialogues and chemistry. 

Brian Donlevy as the crooked political boss Paul Madvig comes across more as a casino head or a CEO of some company, and less of a crime boss. He is charming, distinguished and doing everything on the wrong side of the law, but falls really hard for a pretty girl. Although he gets the top billing, I think Ladd is more of a lead actor in the film than Donlevy.

Supporting cast by Joseph Calleia, Richard Denning and Bonita Granville makes this film only more tighter and better. Denning and Calleia have been a constant fixture in many of the films from the 30s and 40s into early 50s in supporting roles. I havent watched a lot of Granville's films. But I remember watching recently the 1946 American film noir Suspense in which she is the second femme fatale Ronnie, sharp and lethal. I also remember watching some of her earlier films in the 30s as Nancy Drew based on the Nancy Drew books. 

The plot is very fast paced and quick moving from scene to scene. As always the filmmakers packed a lot in a short 85 minutes of the film, as was the way it was back then. We see bromance between Ed Beaumont and Paul Madvig while we see a kind of homoerotic nuance between Ed and Jeff (portrayed by William Bendix). The three female characters - Janet Henry, Opal "Snip" Madvig and for a very short role Eloise Matthews - are gutsy and pretty even if they make a few fumbles along the way. 

A realistic film noir with a touch of psychosis; a shade of humor; depth of matters of heart; and motivations that are so muddled we see betrayals and honor fighting with each other till the very end. A classic noir with a good mystery.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The other five films starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd together were - 1942 Star Spangled Rhythm; 1945 Duffy's Tavern; 1946 The Blue Dahlia; 1947 Variety Girl; and 1948 Saigon.

b. Both The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key were adapted to film in the 1930s as well. The Maltese Falcon released with same name in 1931 with Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels. The Glass Key released with same name in 1935 with George Raft, Edward Arnold, Claire Dodd and Ray Milland in the cast.

c. A 30-minute radio adaptation was broadcasted by The Screen Guild Theater in July of 1946 with Alan Ladd reprising his roles. 

d. Checkout the uncredited cameo appearance of Dane Clark in the beginning of the film. He is thrown out of a window in the scene though he has a few lines. (The guy in the center in the pic below).

e. Reference to The Dead End Kids is seen in Donlevy's dialogue, alluding to the young actors from New York who first appeared in the 1935 play Dead End by Sidney Kingsley; and later on went on to make a series of films under various monikers - the Little Tough Guys, the East Side Kids, the Bowery Boys - until 1958. 

f. Look for another constant fixture in the original Perry Mason TV show, Margaret Hayes, as Eloise Matthews. 

g. You can also see singer and actress Lillian Randolph as entertainer in a basement club in the film. She is shown singing I Don’t Want to Walk Without You originally performed for the 1942 American mystery and comedy film Sweater Girl. Music by Jule Styne and Lyrics by Frank Loesser.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In Farr's office, Ed folding the anonymous letter in his inside pocket is shown twice - once in the close-up shot and once in the long shot.

b. In the room where Ed is thrown with the two goons from Nick, he is first seen on bed face down with his head facing down and legs facing the goons. In the next shot, Ed is positioned in the reverse. 


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