The Glass Key (1942) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
68 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
A legendary film noir
cyril19744 July 2004
Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy), a crooked politician has decided to give up his corrupted past to team up with the respectable candidate Ralph Henry for the ongoing election. As an example of his new ethics, he refuses to protect the clandestine place of Nick Varna by giving a call to the Police in the presence of Nick Varna and Paul's personal hired man Ed Beaumont telling the cops to prepare a visit to this gambling place. Things get complicated when Ralph Henry's son is discovered dead by Ed Beaumont probably murdered in front of Paul Madvig's place. Taylor had a gambling problem and was in love with Paul Madvig's young sister Opal ‘Snip' Madvig. Paul is a first choice suspect, at least to the local journal but did Paul really do it? Who is he protecting? And who is writing these nasty anonymous letters?

This is truly a classic Hollywood film noir. The plot is harder to follow than in the Blue Dahlia, but this is nonetheless a high standard movie. The acting, the dialogues and the directing are all good and playful. This is one of the movies where Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake chemistry first exploded. Just have a look at the first scene when they meet: she gives Ladd sultry looks when Paul Madvig is doing all the talking. I had a hard time concentrating on the discussion at this point. You know that these two will go a long way, even when at some point in the movie, she becomes engaged to Paul and that their relationship becomes more difficult. Veronica Lake is absolutely beautiful in this movie. Her looks are very suggestive and her husky voice is the sweetest. During this movie, you will see Lake kissing Ladd, but it's only a one way kiss. I just saw this movie last night in Oak Street Cinema (Minneapolis) and the audience enjoyed it very much until the very end, and so shall everybody. A classic film noir. Highly recommended 8/10.
53 out of 56 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Reaching For Some Class
bkoganbing23 November 2006
In watching this and the first film version of The Glass Key you have to wonder why Brian Donlevy is making an alliance with the 'reform' forces led by Senator Moroni Olsen. The way I see it, Donlevy is a mug and he knows it, but he figures he'll step up in society if allies himself with the right people. It's the only explanation that makes sense for Donlevy to cut loose from gambling czar Joseph Calleia.

Everybody in Donlevy's family is getting involved with Olsen. Donlevy's taken a shine to daughter Veronica Lake who can't stand him, but will put up with it for her father's sake. Donlevy's sister Bonita Granville is involved with Olsen's playboy son Richard Denning, not something that Donlevy approves of. When Denning turns up dead all kinds of questions are raised.

Donlevy has someone on his payroll who takes care of these problems, Alan Ladd and Ladd's not particularly squeamish about the legalities of things. He starts investigating and at the same time tries to protect his boss's reputation. Not so easy as he finds out.

This was the second teaming Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd and they clicked as well as they did in This Gun For Hire. It was also the first time that Alan Ladd and William Bendix worked together on a film. Bendix became one of Ladd's best friends on the Paramount lot and his widow Tess Bendix was a prime source for Beverly Linet's revealing biography of Alan Ladd. Bendix portrays a truly malevolent thug who works for Calleia and he's pretty frightening. One of the best examples of a sadist ever done on the screen.

My personal favorite in this film besides Bendix is Joseph Calleia the racketeer kingpin of the city. He's one slick article as he usually is in most of his films and his fate is determined by something he really could not have foreseen.

The story by Dashiell Hammett on which this is based really does show how close politics and the criminal element mix, even the so-called 'reform' element. Even law enforcement is afraid to move here as typified by the very political district attorney Donald MacBride. He's not one to move against the local power structure unless he has to.

This version of The Glass Key is not too different from the 1935 version that starred George Raft and Edward Arnold. This one is seen more often and shows that corruption can be quite systemic in some of our local governments. Pity the poor voters.
38 out of 42 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Sock-Me-Again Ladd and Big-Slob Bendix
ted-12918 February 2004
"Reform" party politicians making unholy alliances in the final days of an election, media manipulators itching to smear a candidate in the morning news, ingrate gambling richboys who screw up everything for everybody. A "dated" film?

If anyone's ahead of the game it's Ladd. Smart, tough--he'll take the blows but not the fall. A shark-eyed quiet little guy with a deep voice. A small mouth with barely an upper lip. A smile not quite a smile--head to head with doll-like Veronica Lake who smiles even more when she doesn't mean it. They are a stare-down match for each other. And that bemused look on their faces tells you they're not just game players.

Then there's scene-stealer William Bendix. When a redneck isn't gettin' any action, he might settle for a good knock-down. Getting good & drunk is foreplay. Bendix romances Ladd. How many times does he call Ladd sweetheart? Bendix can hardly wait to get on with the hard stuff. (Don't forget to check out the contemporary hair.) Watch and wince while Ladd plays co-dependent.

For toppers: Ladd's dinner-crashing moment (via skylight)--inspired. Maybe worth the whole film just to see.

Then there are lines like, "My first wife was a second cook in a third-rate joint on Fourth Street," Lake's jab at the Christian Science Monitor, or "If you're going to be a nitwit, don't go around with a megaphone." Also not to miss: Lillian Randolph at the piano of a hide-out bar singing to Bendix. Looking like he's about to cry---till Ladd walks in.

Densely detailed, paced one step ahead--not for the sleepy.
60 out of 69 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A fine Forties noir with Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and Brian Donlevy, and a startling performance by William Bendix
Terrell-48 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Maybe not a great noir, but The Glass Key, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, is one of the most satisfying crime movies to come out of the Forties. I've watched it several times and undoubtedly will again. Why does it work so well? First, there's a death tied to a whodunit and the solution is well disguised until the very end. Second, there's the milieu...big city crime and politics, corruption and violence. Third, a startlingly unhinged performance by William Bendix. And fourth, and most importantly, there is the relationship between two strong men, both slightly amoral but which is based on friendship and trust.

We're talking about Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy), a big-time gambler and enforcer who has moved into big-time politics, and Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd), his right-hand man. This bond of trust and friendship between the two is one of the movie's major themes. It's the engine that drives the movie. Madvig is a tough, cheerful guy who can use his fists or a threat or use a pay-off to get his way. Surprisingly, he's backing a reform candidate for governor. He's gone so far as to shut down illegal gambling operations, which has made a dangerous enemy of gambler Nick Varna (Joseph Calliea). Even more surprisingly, Madvig has fallen for his candidate's daughter, Janet Henry (Veronica Lake).

Beaumont, on the other hand, is a taciturn hard case. He's no one's fool. He's smarter, or at least shrewder, than Madvig. His loyalty to Madvig is complete but he never hesitates to try to talk sense to Madvig. At one point Madvig is bragging about his entry into high society and respectable politics with his association with the candidate he's backing. "I'm going to society, " he says to Beaumont. "He's practically given me the key to his house." Says Beaumont, "Yeah, a glass key. Be sure it doesn't break in your hand." Beaumont sees Janet Henry and her family as wealthy, condescending snobs. Why do you stay with Madvig, she asks him with a coy little condescending smile. "I get along very well with Paul because he's on the dead up-and-up. Why don't you try it sometime?" he says and walks out.

Before long Janet's brother, the wastrel son of Madvig's candidate, is found dead and Madvig is the prime suspect. Beaumont doesn't believe this for a minute. He's sure Nick Varna had something to do with it. Soon Beaumont is being used as a punching bag by Jeff (William Bendix), one of Varna's goons. It doesn't take much time, either, for Beaumont and Janet Henry, who has said she'd marry Madvig, to realize there's a strong attraction between them that's starting to show. Beaumont, however, is determined to respect Madvig's feelings. By the time we reach the end of the movie, there have been plenty of beatings, deaths and corruption. The person responsible for the brother's death has been discovered. It's a clever surprise. Of course, in an Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake movie, there's also a happy ending.

William Bendix was a big, beefy actor who more often than not played good guys. When he played a bad guy, he was something to see. Jeff is just this short of a psycho, but short on the other side of the line. "Meet the swellest guy I ever skinned a knuckle on," he says, draping an arm across Beaumont's shoulder. He enjoys dishing out beatings. The most startling scenes in the movie center on Jeff. In the first, Ed Beaumont is being held captive. He's going to be beaten until he gives the low-down on all of Madvig's less savory activities. He won't talk, so Jeff beats him within an inch of his life. It's an almost sadomasochistic scene. Ladd's face, with some realistic make-up, looks like hamburger...and Jeff isn't through. The other scene has Jeff losing control when a major character gives him one too many orders. "Now you see what we gotta do," Jeff says, "we gotta give him the works." As Beaumont leans against the door in the background and watches, we see the sweating, shaking face of Jeff as strangles the guy. We don't see the victim, only the victim's kicking legs. Which is worse, Jeff killing the man or Beaumont watching with a slight smile?

This was Alan Ladd's follow-up film to This Gun for Hire. He was never a great actor; he said so himself. But he had whatever it takes to be a star and this movie secured his star status. Veronica Lake leaves me with mixed feelings. In The Glass Key she is so carefully coiffed, dressed and made-up that, with her tiny stature, she looks like a kind of odd porcelain doll. Although Ladd and Lake never much cared for each other, they made an intriguing couple on the screen. And what of Brian Donlevy? Sure, he was a stolid actor, very straight forward. Yet, for me, he always combined a kind of honest, nice-guy quality with a streak of solid bad-guy potential. "Reliable," I guess is what people would call him, yet I can't think of anyone who could have done a better job as Sergeant Markoff in Beau Geste. Donlevy had top billing for The Glass Key.

For those who like old songs as well as old movies, there's a nice instrumental version of "I Remember You," music by Victor Schertzinger and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, used as background in a scene. "I Don't Want to Walk Without You, Baby," with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Frank Loesser, is sung by an uncredited Lillian Randolph in a dive while Jeff glowers and downs a couple of scotches.
11 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Sordid, Realistic and Timeless Film-Noir
claudio_carvalho13 December 2009
During the campaign for reelection, the crooked politician Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) decides to clean his past, refusing the support of the gangster Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia) and associating to the respectable reformist politician Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen). When Ralph's son Taylor Henry (Richard Denning), who is a gambler and lover of Paul's sister Opal (Bonita Granville), is murdered, Paul's right arm Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd) finds his body on the street. Nick uses the financial situation of The Observer to force the publisher Clyde Matthews (Arthur Loft) to use the newspaper to raise the suspect that Paul Madvig might have killed Taylor. Meanwhile, Paul proposes Ralph's daughter Janet Henry (Veronica Lake) and Ed is intrigued since he knows that she hates Paul.

"The Glass Key" is a sordid, realistic and timeless film-noir with a story that is not dated. All the characters with no exception are filthy: the dirty politicians; the manipulative newspaper publisher; the corrupt district attorney; the trifling women. The motivation of the loyalty of Ed Beaumont to Paul Madvig is blurred and never clear. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "A Chave de Vidro" ("The Glass Key")
25 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Match made in heaven
blanche-223 August 2007
Alan Ladd warns Brian Dennehy about "The Glass Key" in this 1942 noir also starring Veronica Lake and William Bendix. The glass key refers to a key that breaks in a lock - Ladd here is warning his boss (Brian Donlevy) to watch out for people out to get him. Donlevy is Paul Madvig, who controls a political machine and falls in love with the daughter (Lake) of a wealthy man, Ralph Henry, trying to get the benefit of Madvig's political influence. When Henry's no-good son Taylor is killed, Madvig falls under suspicion. Ladd, as his assistant Ed, works to prove his innocence.

This film is good but hard to follow. It's also cold as ice with nothing to warm it up. Ladd and Lake were one terrific team, but one could never call them warm, especially in this. It's also very violent - you practically cry out in pain when William Bendix, playing yet another whack job, beats Ed to a pulp. When Ed gets away from him, it's by throwing himself out a window - a stunning scene.

"The Glass Key" is a cross between a hard crime drama and a noir, and you couldn't ask for a more perfect actor for the noir genre than Ladd. He gives a focused, relaxed performance, saying his lines in his usual straightforward manner. He's one actor who never had to be tall to be tough or powerful, and one forgets all about his height, especially when seeing him next to tiny, gorgeous Lake. He takes some beating in this but keeps right on going. Donlevy does a good job as a political boss, and Bendix is scary. The one bad note is Granville, as Madvig's sister. She was an energetic actress who, when the director wasn't paying attention, could go way over the top in her dramatic scenes. Evidently the director was distracted.

The film has a Hollywood ending which many people won't like. Although "The Glass Key" is confusing, it's still worth watching to see the two stars at the top of their game.
14 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Excellent film noir
perfectbond16 December 2004
I actually saw The Blue Dahlia, another film noir starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, and William Bendix, before I saw The Glass Key. While both films are memorable, especially for a fan of the genre like myself, I actually prefer this earlier collaboration. In The Glass Key, Ladd seems more engaged as does Lake. Ladd makes a great protagonist here; he is tough, smart, and determined, essentially the very essence of a self-made man. Lake is the perfect feminine companion for him! An engrossing plot, sharp dialogue, just the right dose of action, perfectly matched heroes and villains, and of course the chemistry between the leads make The Glass Key a classic film noir. See it today!
25 out of 29 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Satisfying film noir despite muddled motivations...
Doylenf18 December 2002
What holds interest in THE GLASS KEY is not the convoluted plot full of red herrings (until the murderer is unmasked), but the performances of the three leads--Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd. Ladd and Lake have some good chemistry going here, especially in the scene where they first meet and find themselves immediately attracted--a flirting encounter that director Stuart Heisler uses to catch every glimmer of their star appeal as a team.

Everyone takes some hard physical stunts. Lake's sock to the jaw when she encounters Brian Donlevy (as a crooked politician) turned out to be a real one. (She told him she didn't know how to pull punches). Dane Clark (in an unbilled early role) gets shoved through a plate glass window by Donlevy and into a pool. And Alan Ladd takes a brutal beating from William Bendix that is painful to even watch, it's brutally realistic. Ladd's "beating" make-up deserved an Oscar. His escape out of a broken window has him falling off an awning and crashing through the ceiling where a family is having dinner.

Richard Denning has a brief role as Bonita Granville's unfortunate brother who gets killed off early in the proceedings. No use telling the plot outline--just be ready to watch the film for its authentic '40s film noir style--crisp B&W photography full of menacing shadows and some unpredictable twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end. Ladd's icy calm is a little too guarded but watch him in the scene where Bendix takes him upstairs for a drink. Their contrasting acting styles are fun to watch--and Ladd manages to steal the scene with his underplayed cat-and-mouse expression as he casually toys with a glass or a bottle.

For fans of Ladd and Lake, a good one--but personally I liked the story of THE BLUE DAHLIA better with a plot easier to follow.
35 out of 43 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Standard Film-Noir With Some Good Moments
Snow Leopard16 May 2001
"The Glass Key" has all the elements expected in a film noir - it has an intricate crime-based plot, a fast pace, and an assortment of interesting characters who interact with each other in unpredictable ways. It is a fairly standard example of the genre, with a few particularly good moments.

The title comes from a metaphor used by one of the characters to describe the relationships at the center of the plot. Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) is a corrupt political boss who decides to break with his past by joining with reform-minded candidate Ralph Henry, angering some of his former cronies and confusing loyal assistant Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd). Madvig expresses confidence in his new future, saying that the upright Henry has "given me the key to his house", but Beaumont warns him that "it's a glass key - be careful it doesn't break off". The fragile nature of the relationships and careers of all of the main characters drives the action and suspense. And when Henry's wayward son turns up murdered, each character is plunged into dangerous situations.

Ladd and Donlevy are pretty good as the leads, although Veronica Lake, as candidate Henry's daughter and a focus of attention for both male leads, is somewhat lifeless in an important role, as her character is meant to drive much of the other action. The supporting cast is one of the strengths of the film. The fine character actor Joseph Calleia is excellent as a crooked businessman seeking revenge on Madvig, and William Bendix is very funny, although perhaps a bit over-the-top at times, as one of Calleia's goons.

"The Glass Key" will certainly be of interest to any film noir/crime film fan, and should be fast-paced enough to make it interesting to other viewers as well.
27 out of 33 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Keys of the criminal kingdom
Lejink17 August 2015
This no-holds-barred dramatisation of the Dashiell Hammett novel contains the writer's familiar elements of tough men and shrewd women, complex plotting and lots of violence. I certainly wasn't expecting to see the absolute pounding Alan Ladd takes at the hands of William Bendix and his crony - top marks to the make-up team for making his battered and bruised face so true-to-life.

To find out exactly how Ladd ends up in the position of being so viciously interrogated by these two hoodlums, you have to go back two or three plot-lines in a typically convoluted Hammett narrative. Ladd is the right hand man of his friend and mentor Brian Dunlevy who's running as governor in a corrupt unidentified American town. The story details take in political intrigue, corruption of the press, the murder of a key witness, blackmail, torture, suicide and perversion of justice, all this in under 90 minutes.

The story certainly bowls you along even if you might occasionally scratch your head as you try to piece together the plot, but like some of the best noir / gangster films of the day, the plot details effectively don't matter. With sharp dialogue, realistic fight-scenes and well-observed political intrigue, this is an ahead-of-its-time thriller which delivers a real punch.

We're made to wait a while for Ladd and Lake's first joint appearance but there's definitely something in the air. William Bendix is great as always as the bloodthirsty henchman, the tiny Lake smoulders impressively and the ever-watchable Dunlevy is effective as the win-at-all-costs politician compromised by events. The direction is fast and fairly furious, watch out in particular for Ladd's dramatic escape through a window right into a table of shocked diners.

I couldn't pretend to follow all the characters sometimes shady alliances and dubious decisions, but as a rip-roaring political movie, this key certainly opened my door.
7 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Political Corruption, Intrigue & Romance
seymourblack-124 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"The Glass Key" was Dashiell Hammet's favourite of his own stories and this excellent adaptation of his 1931 novel is full of pace, twists and typically hardboiled dialogue. Its intricate plot features corruption, treachery, murder and romance but it's the various relationships that exist between the main characters that really provide its most intriguing ingredient. Predictably, as the action takes place in the world of big city politics, deceitfulness, deviousness and double-dealings are everywhere.

Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) is the political boss from the wrong side of the tracks whose life becomes increasingly chaotic after he falls for Janet Henry (Veronica Lake) and stops thinking with his brain. His first decision is to transfer his support to Janet's father Ralph (Moroni Olsen) who's running for governor as the reform candidate and this brings him into conflict with local gangster Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia). Nick has enjoyed a longstanding arrangement with Paul which ensured that (for an appropriate payment) his gambling joints have been protected from any interference by the police. The continuation of this arrangement, however, becomes incompatible with Paul's new political allegiance and he instructs the police chief to shut down Nick's clubs immediately.

Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd) is Paul's right hand man and advises strongly against the course of action that Paul is taking. He's not convinced about Ralph Henry's sincerity and also firmly believes that Janet is simply using him to help achieve her father's ambitions. Ed's suspicions are confirmed one night at the Henrys' residence when Janet makes it clear that she doesn't think very highly of Paul. Ed is extremely loyal to Paul and gives her the brush-off.

Ralph Henry's son Taylor (Richard Denning) drinks and gambles too much and is heavily in debt to Nick Varna. Paul's 18-year-old sister Opal (Bonita Granville) is involved in a relationship with Taylor which Paul strongly disapproves of and so, when Taylor is found dead and it looks like murder, Paul becomes the prime suspect and Ed sets out to clear his boss' name.

Paul's refusal to accept Ed's advice leads to a rift between the two men and Ed's refusal to cooperate with Nick Varna in framing Paul, leads to him being beaten repeatedly by Nick's henchmen before the sequence of events that follow culminate in the identity of the real murderer being revealed.

There are a few standout scenes in this movie such as when Ed and Janet meet for the first time and the magnetic attraction between them is palpable. Similarly, when Ed is viciously beaten by Nick Varna's thug called Jeff (William Bendix), what transpires is particularly unpleasant but also interesting to watch , as it's obvious that Jeff enjoys his work for reasons which go beyond simple sadism. The scene in which Ed falls from a building and smashes through a glass roof on his way to the ground is also notable as it's the movie's most expertly filmed piece of action.

The presence of the Ladd and Lake partnership helped to make this movie a great box office success and their typically deadpan performances add to the intrigue as their motivations are not always immediately apparent. Brian Donlevy is great as the cheerfully corrupt Paul. who despite his background achieved considerable financial success but without ever managing to acquire any additional sophistication along the way. William Bendix provides the pick of the supporting performances as an extraordinary thug whose actions contribute significantly to the story's final outcome.
7 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Despite some excellent performances, the film was very muddled and uneven
MartinHafer13 November 2006
I really wanted to enjoy this movie a lot more than I did, as I am a big fan of Alan Ladd. However, apart from a couple excellent performances, the film was a big let-down and was not even close to being as good as THIS GUN FOR HIRE or THE BLUE DAHLIA--two other famous Ladd films from the same era. This isn't the fault of Ladd, who as usual did an excellent job playing a tough guy (which is interesting coming from a guy as tiny as Ladd). In addition, William Bendix had an even more impressive role in the film as a sadistic animal who revels in beating people to a pulp. The sheer pleasure he obtains hurting other people is amazing and scary to watch! Now as for the rest of the film, apart from some snappy dialog, the rest of the characters are pretty one-dimensional and unconvincing. The bottom line is that this film had many of the elements of good Film Noir except for a decent script. The movie was often confusing and the ultimate solution to the mystery seemed to come from no where! In fact, it was as if they'd written and written and decided to just tack on an ending generated by a coin flip and call it a day! In the end, this is a watchable but horribly flawed film. You can certainly do better with other Noir or Ladd pictures.
15 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The Adoration of Alan Ladd
mowasteph15 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Saw The Glass Key this weekend, a movie I've always been curious about. Here's my rather skewed analysis. (Lots of spoilers)

I thought this would be a typical atmospheric and moody noir (it was up to a point) with a bit of a convoluted plot (it did have that) but no one warned me that it was going to be so subtly weird, kinky and delightfully perverse.

Let's start with the familiar trope of the "beautiful object." This is the Hollywood lovely who is given lingering close-ups, usually in soft focus, and we then know that this is the object that we are supposed to gaze upon and delight our eyes with. It does not matter if one is a straight woman (like me) because the object is not necessarily a sexual thing. She is lovely eye candy...something to adore and emulate. We go into this movie expecting our object to be Lake. She does have a few soft lingering close-ups and there is a moment when the nurse opens Ladd's hospital room door and she stands there PERFECTLY FRAMED in her Edith Head ensemble, but overall Lake seems to be an afterthought in this movie.

But who the camera seriously and continuously slobbers over is Alan Ladd. In fact, I've never seen a movie in which the MALE lead was pawed at so much by the camera (and thus, us) and by the other characters in our little play. Everybody is all over this guy. There's Lake who throws herself at him to very little avail. He flirts with her a bit in an early party scene (and here we get some of those lingering, soft-focus close-ups of Ladd as he flashes his wicked smile) but he also gives her a kind of kiss-off at the door when she sees him out and she gets left standing there with her panties in a bunch.

Then there's poor William Bendix who - quite literally - CANNOT keep his hands off of Ladd. Sure, it's mostly to beat the crap out of him, but he's usually calling him sweetheart and baby while doing so. Bendix seems to light up from within every time Ladd steps into his view.

Throughout this movie Ladd is always entering somebody's room or office or chambers, draping himself easily onto some piece of furniture and saying "look at me." And look they do. Mob boss Nick Varna positively beams every time he's in Ladd's presence. There's a scene after Ladd's Ed Beaumont has broken ties with his bro-friend Madvig and goes to see Varna to talk terms on a possible defection. Varna mentions a sort- of witness affidavit he has, and instead of sensibly leaving it in the safe he practically SKIPS over to the safe to get it out and show to Beaumont. One "aren't you a clever boy" from Ladd and this guy would swoon.

In fact, it seems the only person in this movie who doesn't get giddy in Ladd's presence is boss/cohort/bestie Paul Madvig...and absolutely every machination of Beaumont's is in the service of Paul. You can see where I'm going with this. This has got to be the gayest movie of this era I have ever seen. But I'm not putting it down for that. I think the whole thing is wonderfully subversive and entertaining as hell.

Now let's talk Lake. It is painfully obvious that Beaumont doesn't care two ticks for her. Most telling in this vein is a scene near the end of the movie in the Henry household when Henry finally confesses. Ladd says "I thought we'd have to send the girl to the gas chamber before the old man confessed." The girl??! It's like he's forgotten what her name is. Oh sure, he likes to flirt around with her but doesn't stick at making kissy face with the hospital nurse or flat out get busy with Mrs. Newspaper Owner.

And let's talk about that whopper of a scene! It is in this scene that we see the stunning amorality of Beaumont come to light. Beaumont goes out to the country house of Mr. Newspaper Owner in order to confront...I dunno, a whole mess of people. First off he comes in and stands there for a good 30 seconds, giving off his sly smile, so everyone can get a load of him. Mrs. Newspaper Owner then gives him the "well hel-LO!" and "come sit by me Mr. Beaumont" routine. She finds out that her husband is under Varna's thumb. Big surprise...not, and uses her (fake) indignation as an excuse to throw herself all over Beaumont. Everyone goes to bed while Beaumont and Mrs. NO start getting' busy right on Mr. NO's own couch! The doughy Mr. NO comes downstairs occasionally to ask his wife if she's coming upstairs or what. Mrs. NO just goes back to sticking her tongue down Ladd's throat. Eventually Mr. NO just goes upstairs and puts a bullet in his own head.

This scene is stunning in its amorality. What kind of dude gets his face all in another guys's wife's cleavage right on that guy's own couch in that guy's own house and just gives a bored, blank look when the guy dares to protest? Was it Beaumont's intention that Mr. NO go upstairs to off himself? This is never explained and Beaumont shows zero concern for what's happened. The guy is one piece of work.

Finally, the "Lake and Ladd run off together" ending seems a bit tacked on. I mean, I can see that they sort of dig each other. There was a fair bit of chemistry but in the long run I don't think he's going to stay interested in her. They're both a couple of evil, twisted ice cubes, and therefore made for each other, but he'll "not keep her long" to quote Shakespeare, and in this world she's just not the object of adoration. He is.
5 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Ladd and Lake: made for each other
imogensara_smith6 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake seemed to be the only two members of some other species: tiny, blond, beautiful and cold-blooded. They weren't actually paired in their first film, This Gun For Hire—during most of their screen time, hit man Ladd was holding Lake hostage, and she wound up in the arms of good guy Robert Preston. But the moment Ladd sat down next to Lake on a train and they slid cool, suspicious sidelong glances at each other, it was obvious that these two belonged together. The studio realized it, and even before This Gun For Hire was released they began production on The Glass Key.

Ironically, Ladd and Lake have even less screen time together in this inordinately complicated tale of Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy), a crass ward heeler suspected of murder. Madvig teams up with a high class politician and falls in love with his beautiful daughter, Janet Henry (Veronica Lake), not realizing these wealthy people want his political influence but will never accept him socially. Alan Ladd is Ed Beaumont, Madvig's much smarter right-hand man, who tries to save his boss after Madvig is accused of murdering Janet's wastrel brother, who was having an affair with Madvig's sister Opal (I said it was inordinately complicated, didn't I?)

This is a handsomely produced and well shot film, and the high forties gloss disguises a remarkably cold and brutal heart. No one is really sympathetic. The setting is one of those nasty, poisonous little cities that were Dashiell Hammett's specialty. It's not only gangsters and corrupt politicians who distrust, double-cross and try to destroy each other. Madvig's sister thinks he's guilty and gives evidence against him; so does his fiancée. The Henry family has its own schisms and dark secrets. Grudges abound, and everyone is either a powerful manipulator or a weak puppet. Ed Beaumont is a chilly, amoral hero. In one scene he seduces (or allows himself to be seduced by) a man's wife in order to provoke the man to kill himself, then grabs and destroys the man's will the minute he's dead. Beaumont's loyalty to Madvig is never fully explained, and not necessarily admirable either, since Madvig is not only corrupt but stupid. Even this, the closest relationship in the movie, is marred by repeated rifts and lack of trust. Alan Ladd's beautiful, chiseled mask of a face and his peculiarly opaque manner perfectly suit his mysterious character. Veronica Lake's exquisite, frosty loveliness is equally appropriate: she's both a classy trophy and a deceitful schemer. As much as these two belong together, the romantic denouement feels tacked on to the story. This is a world no one should enter without brass knuckles, and a well-hardened heart.

And I haven't even mentioned William Bendix as one of the most colorful of all noir thugs, a psychotic goon named Jeff who gets enormous pleasure out of beating Beaumont to a pulp, all the while addressing him as "baby" and "sweetheart." In the movie's best scene, Ed visits Jeff in a crummy dive and coolly extracts information from him while the drunken Jeff wraps his arm around Ed's shoulders and eagerly anticipates another beating session. "We're going to have a drink together," he says, eyes shining and misty, "And then I'm going to knock your teeth out!" Forties movies are rarely this lurid.

A more typical forties touch is Miss Lake's hats, which will repeatedly have you asking, "What's that thing on her head?" Less stylish than This Gun For Hire, and not as satisfying as Ladd and Lake's third pairing, The Blue Dahlia, The Glass Key is a good example of how casually well-made, and surprisingly subversive, classic Hollywood movies could be.
8 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
This "Key" Is Hard To Fit, But It Does If You Persist
ccthemovieman-124 February 2006
This is one of a handful of films I kept giving chances to like and finally did on the third viewing. Maybe I expected too much on the first viewing, when I first began to appreciate film noir and had become a fan of Veronica Lake. In The Glass Key, though, Lake didn't have her usual snappy dialog, and that was one of the disappointments, along with too-confusing a storyline.

By the third viewing, I guess I finally understood what was going on in this Dashielle Hammet story. Hammet's stories weren't always the easiest to understand.

Even with knowing what to expect, William Bendix in this film still is so brutal in here he almost makes me uncomfortable. Well, he DOES make me uncomfortable. He plays one of the meanest, sadistic thugs I have ever seen on film and one of his punches literally knocked out Alan Ladd when they were filming this.

Brian Donlevy is perhaps the best character in here as the slightly-corrupt politician. It's an okay Ladd-Lake film but nothing special. If you're a collector of film noir, then you should have it, but don't expect the zip in here that the other Ladd-Lake noirs possessed.
30 out of 44 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"He gets in more jams than the Dead End Kids."
utgard1410 November 2014
Crooked political boss Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) tries to clean up his act when he falls for Janet Henry (Veronica Lake), the daughter of a reformist politician. When Janet's brother is killed, all signs point to Paul having done it. So his right-hand man Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd), who also has a thing for Janet (and vice-versa), must figure out who committed the crime to save his friend from a murder rap.

The second pairing of Ladd and Lake is also the second film adaptation of the Dashiell Hammett novel The Glass Key. They have great chemistry, of course, but Ladd and Donlevy's bromance almost overshadows it. This is one of Ladd's best roles. Lake is sexy and fun. Whenever I see a Veronica Lake movie from this period I'm always anxious to see another. It's a shame she was so difficult to work with that her time in the spotlight was so brief. Brian Donlevy is very good in this playing a character not too far removed from his classic Preston Sturges movies. Really good supporting cast includes Bonita Granville, Joseph Calleia, Richard Denning, Donald MacBride, and even Dane Clark in a small part. William Bendix is a scene stealer as a sadistic bruiser that works for Calleia.

Some say the ending is abrupt and the story confusing. Can't say that I agree with that. I thought the story was easy to follow and the resolution to the mystery made sense. This is an enjoyable film noir with lots of snappy patter and good characters. Also some solid stunt work and a first-rate makeup job on a battered Alan Ladd. Obviously a must-see for fans of Ladd, Lake, and Hammett but I think most people who like 1940s film noir and crime pictures will like it.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A good mystery form the author of The Maltese Falcon
mossicon23 August 1999
The Maltese Falcon is better than this but I enjoyed it. Not one of the best film-noirs I've ever seen but it was solid. The duo of the two torturer's worked good as comic relief. The thing about noir's are, it's the atmosphere not the story per se, and I think this film works in that regard.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Film You Can View Over & Over AGAIN!
whpratt128 February 2004
When Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and William Bendix appeared in a film, you knew it was going to be a great film, but I never realized this film would become a great Classic B&W screen gem! Brian Donlevy(Paul Madwig),"Kiss of Death",47, played a great role as the King Pin Mob boss who is a very good friend of Alan Ladd(Ed Beaumont),"Two Years Before the Mast",'40, Ed Beaumont has some moral values in life and gets involved with Janet Henry(Veronica Lake),"Flesh Feast",'70, who is Paul Madwig's girl friend. Sexy Janet Henry falls in love with Ed Beaumont and her sexy hair over one eye seems to captivate every scene they are in. However, William Bendix(Jeff) does not like Ed Beaumont's face and beats the heck out of "Pretty Boy's Face" every chance he gets, I really thought he would need a face Job after the many beatings Ed Beaumont received. This film will be enjoyed by many and many future generations to come! This is a film to take you down memory lane in the early 40's!!!
22 out of 33 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Ladd's Finest Role
Bucs196012 October 2008
There are those who will argue that "Shane" is the crowning achievement of Alan Ladd's career but I beg to differ. Although "Shane" is a better film by far, I find Ladd's performance (or imitation of a performance) here about the best that he would ever give. He certainly was no actor but he had a certain detached manner that was appealing and served him well in this film. Ladd and Veronica Lake (who wasn't much of an actor either) were the coldest couple in film history and it was an inspired bit of casting. That was evident after their first pairing in "This Gun For Hire".

The story by Dashiel Hammett is a convoluted tale of dirty politics and nasty characters. Everybody is in it to win but few end up on the winning side. William Bendix is a psychotic bully who beats the stuffing out of Ladd, Brian Donlevey is the mug with his eye on the political prize and the wonderful Joseph Calleia is the oily crime boss. The aforementioned beating of Ladd by Bendix is extremely brutal and the enjoyment that Bendix exhibits while pummeling Ladd half to death makes it even harder to watch.

The film may not be the best noir in the oeuvre, maybe not even close but there is something about the performances of the major players (not to mention Veronica Lake's clothes and strange head wear) that makes it one for your "must see" list.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"Be sure it doesn't break in your hand"
ackstasis5 September 2008
In the early 1940s, the unofficial film noir style was only just beginning to find its feet, and much of its inspiration, at least plot-wise, was to be found in the hard-boiled detective novels of authors like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett {whose best-known creations are probably Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles}. "The Glass Key" was originally published by Hammett in 1931, and was first adapted to film by Frank Tuttle in 1935, with George Raft in the main role. Seven years later, director Stuart Heisler brought the story into the 1940s with his slick, professional tale of nasty political scheming. Very few punches are pulled, and many characters get well and truly "beat up," but the film itself seems somewhat dispensable at the end of the day. The oddball characters are intriguing without being memorable, their surfaces only scratched as far as the complicated plot requires; likewise, the performances themselves are worthwhile, if not altogether convincing. All things considered, 'The Glass Key (1942)' is a solid film noir, but not a timeless one.

When political boss Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) decides to back reform candidate Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen), he stirs up the anger of crime boss Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia), who will be crippled by the partnership. When Henry's meddlesome son (Richard Denning) is found murdered, everybody suspects Madvig of the crime, including the victim's beautiful sister Janet Henry (Veronica Lake). It falls to Madvig's hard-edged assistant Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd) to sort out the truth of the matter, and to ensure that Varna's gang doesn't succeed in snuffing out Madvig's candidate from the political ballot. Ladd is curiously uneven in the main role. Though he courageously takes multiple beatings with a blood-tinged grin, and talks his way through swathes of lethal encounters, it is the unnecessary romantic moments that bring him down. Whenever he meets Janet Henry, Ladd suddenly acquires this curious lopsided smirk that makes him look weak and uncomfortable – it's hardly the expression of a man who's almost always in control of the situation.

Veronica Lake plays her role with a resolute passiveness that gives her character an air of innocence. However, as any good femme fatale should, her apparent inaction radiates a very subtle suggestion of menace, implying that Beaumont would do well to keep a peripheral eye on her movements. Donlevy is assuredly smug and confident as the political man who never loses face ("I just met the swellest dame... she smacked me in the kisser!"), and Calleia is suitably ominous as his sworn opponent. Unusually violent for a 1940s film, 'The Glass Key' features men being thrown through windows, throwing themselves out of buildings and Alan Ladd being beaten within an inch of his life (courtesy of William Bendix, whose sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain is almost frightening). Heisler's film was reportedly an inspiration for Akira Kurosawa's 'Yojimbo (1961),' though I more readily noticed parallels with the Coen brothers' 'Miller's Crossing (1990),' in which Gabriel Byrne becomes estranged from his crime partner but nonetheless takes innumerable beatings for him.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Reasonable Dashiell Hammett adaptation
barfly9928 May 2000
Although rather flat in parts, this is still a very watchable slice of film noir. It will be of particular interest to fans of MILLER'S CROSSING, which was based on the same source material. This has none of that film's pure brilliance, but some of the visual humour is almost Coen-esque - Alan Ladd nonchalantly kicking Richard Denning in the shins; Brian Donlevy throwing things at people as they leave his office. Ladd is excellent in the lead role, though William Bendix's physically brutal yet verbally affectionate henchman steals the film.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An Entertaining Ladd/Lake Vehicle
blakiepeterson10 May 2015
The B-movie branded film noir is a special thing. Not especially observant that they are, in fact, a film noir, and unwilling to milk their potentially stylish undertones, they work only in economic profusion, cutting to a murder here, a mugging there, a kiss here, a bloody climax there. Not every noir can be a coffee-stained greaser like "Raw Deal", but there's something wondrous about a pulp story that was, most likely, churned out by the studio in a hasty attempt to make money and still makes something special.

"The Glass Key" isn't quite a B-movie — it was distributed by Paramount and starred power screen couple Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake — but it is reminiscent of one. It's attempting to tell a story of corruption, deception, and its other disasters (with low-budget effect); yet, perhaps accidentally, it becomes a film noir of unique ambition, with its impeccable starring (and supporting) turns and hard-boiled writing.

Adapted from Dashiell Hammett's novel of the same name and a remake of the 1935 film starring George Raft, "The Glass Key" stars Ladd as Ed Beaumont, the right-hand-man to Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy), a corrupt political boss. When Madvig isn't throwing opponents out of hotel windows or telling his henchman Jeff (William Bendix) to beat an enemy to death, he's chuckling at crude jokes and falling for tough broads. In "The Glass Key", he falls in love with Janet (Veronica Lake), the daughter of reform candidate Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen). Beaumont isn't so sure that the romance is a very good idea — Janet's motives are shaky, considering her background — and he would be right: she is increasingly drawn to Beaumont while remaining disgusted by the brutish Madvig.

Things get worse for the boss and his sidekick when Madvig's sister's (Bonita Granville) lover, who he openly disliked, is found murdered in the street. The press, along with the people, believe that Madvig is responsible. Despite knowing that his employer isn't hardly a man of clean morals, Beaumont knows that he wasn't at fault, forced to clear his name in a town of beasts that would do anything to stop the truth from coming out.

At only 82 minutes, "The Glass Key" hardly has enough time to go into much detail when regarding its corrupt characters, but within its short time, it successfully establishes a ferocious atmosphere, taking more time analyzing merciless beatings than the eventual romance between Ladd and Lake. The film is essentially a murder mystery; we want Madvig to be the killer — he's an asshole who sounds slightly like a demented Fozzie Bear — but things aren't as simple as we would like. As Beaumont attempts to do the right thing, he also has to get his hands dirty. "The Glass Key" thrives in a world where the sun doesn't shine. Love is a rarity among the relentless malfeasance.

With his sly smile reminiscent of a young Humphrey Bogart, Ladd brings a tough-guy charisma to the screen at a dogged pace; his chemistry with the iconically provocative Lake works so well because they're both so subtly, to put it mildly, cool. And with the puff of a cigarette, a swig of bourbon, and a kiss on the lips, "The Glass Key" acts as an icily appealing noir that boasts a considerable amount of on screen allure.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Like A Rubber Ball...You Come Bouncing Back To Me
LeonLouisRicci23 October 2012
A witty and complex script combined with a Ladd/Lake teaming, and a homosexual psychotic are the ingredients in this early seedling of Film-noir. There are interesting scenes of darkness but the complete Noir sensibility was still a few years away.

This is a political story full of the corruption that has become standard in our thinking of Politics, with a murder mystery and a love triangle just in case you find your attention wandering. After all it is from a Dashiell Hammett novel (his favorite) and the complexities both confound and challenge the presentation.

There is one unforgettable scene where William Bendix lays a beating on Alan Ladd that is remarkable in its staging, makeup and brutality. There are some testy romantic confrontations and some hard boiled dialog that keeps things humming.

A well liked film that has a smooth pace and is definitely marred by some of the conventions of the time while breaking a few along the way. This is Film-Noir but not in the purest sense and if you're looking for the real deal (in the most definite) this is not it.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
stereotypical noir
mjneu5922 November 2010
Vice, corruption, betrayal, murder, and a skeleton in every closet: it's business as usual in big city politics. What many consider to be the definitive screen adaptation of a Dashiell Hammett crime thriller is more or less typical of its kind, with hard-boiled heroes in anonymous trench coats and tough, beautiful blondes squeezing terse, cynical dialogue at each other out of the side of their mouths. As usual the convoluted plot tends to frustrate any attempt at a quick description; suffice to say the heroes and villains run true to form, with the weakest link, oddly enough, being the two stars: Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, a pair of the squarest jaws in Hollywood at the time. Their minimal emoting in the lead roles is completely overshadowed by the livelier performances in the supporting cast, notably Brian Donleavy as Ladd's earthy political kingpin boss, and William Bendix as his rival's cheerfully sadistic henchman.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Supporting cast steals show
cabotcove29 May 2000
Ladd and Lake are certainly adequate in the leads, but Donlevy and Bendix steal our attention. Donlevy is perfection itself as the player who gets played, and Bendix is marvelously convincing as a sadistic thug. Ladd is suitably handsome and cynical, and the pace moves briskly enough for an entertaining movie.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed