ⓘ The Glass Key (1942 film)


ⓘ The Glass Key (1942 film)

The Glass Key is a 1942 American crime drama film and film noir directed by Stuart Heisler and based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. An earlier film version had been released in 1935.


1. Plot

After falling for Janet Henry, the daughter of reform candidate for governor Ralph Henry, shady political boss Paul Madvig is determined to help Henry achieve his goal. Pauls right-hand man, Ed Beaumont, believes the move is a big mistake and correctly distrusts both Janets and her fathers motives; he feels they are stringing Paul along and will dump him after the election. Janet becomes engaged to Paul, but is put off by his crudity and becomes very attracted to the more eclectic Ed. He fends off her advances out of strong loyalty to Paul. The deluded Paul boasts that Henry has practically given him the key to his house; Ed warns him that it is liable to be a glass key, one that can break at any moment.

When Paul tells one of his supporters, the gangster Nick Varna, that he is cleaning up the city and that Varna will no longer receive protection from the police, Ed grows even more concerned. Complicating matters further, Ralphs neer-do-well son, Taylor, owes Varna for gambling debts, while Pauls young sister, Opal, is in love with Taylor. Paul has told her to stay away from the young man, but she defies him; when he discovers this, Opal becomes fearful about what he might do to Taylor.

Ed later finds Taylors lifeless body in the street. Paul is the prime suspect, much to Nicks delight. When Nick hears that Ed and Paul have split due to Taylors death, he tries to recruit Ed. Ed turns him down, so Nick has him brutally beaten repeatedly by his sadistic henchman Jeff, to force him into revealing details of corruption to the editor of the newspaper Nick controls. Ed contrives an escape and is hospitalized. When he recovers, he learns that Nick has found a "witness" to Taylor Henrys killing, Henry Sloss. Paul has Sloss brought to his office, but he is gunned down before he can talk. As a result, Paul is indicted for the murder and held in jail.

Ed finds a somewhat drunk Jeff in a bar and, in a back room, tries to pump the thug for information. As they drink, Ed toasts, "Heres looking at you." Just as Jeff starts to talk, Nick shows up and brusquely orders him to shut up. When Ed disarms Nick, a fed-up Jeff strangles his boss. Afterwards, Ed has the waiter call the police to arrest Jeff. Having finally guessed who killed Taylor, Ed persuades District Attorney Farr to arrest Janet. As Ed had hoped, Ralph confesses he struggled with Taylor, causing him to fall and strike his head. After everything is cleared up, Paul overhears Janet tell Ed that she loves him and that she knows he loves her. Seeing that it is true, Paul gives the couple his blessing, but takes back his expensive engagement ring.


2. Cast

  • Veronica Lake as Janet Henry
  • Dane Clark as Sloss uncredited
  • Moroni Olsen as Ralph Henry
  • Richard Denning as Taylor Henry
  • William Bendix as Jeff
  • Joseph Calleia as Nick Varna
  • Alan Ladd as Ed Beaumont
  • Frances Gifford as Nurse
  • Arthur Loft as Clyde Matthews
  • Brian Donlevy as Paul Madvig
  • Eddie Marr as Rusty
  • Donald MacBride as District Attorney Farr
  • Margaret Hayes as Eloise Matthews
  • George Meader as Claude Tuttle
  • Bonita Granville as Opal "Snip" Madvig

3. Production

Dashiell Hammetts The Glass Key had been filmed by Paramount in 1935 as a vehicle for George Raft. They still had the film rights in 1941, when Alan Ladd impressed Paramount executives while shooting This Gun for Hire. Even before the film was released, head of production Buddy de Sylva announced the studio would star Ladd in his own film as a follow up. Hammetts reputation was strong in Hollywood following the success of The Maltese Falcon and Paramount decided on a new version of The Glass Key ; De Sylva said the studio wanted a "sure-fire narrative to help him on his way".

Production was announced in October 1941. Two months later Paramount said that Ladd would make Red Harvest, from another Hammett novel, instead of The Glass Key, with Jonathan Latimer to write the script and Fred Kohlmar to produce. Brian Donlevy was assigned to co-star.

However these plans changed again - Red Harvest was postponed it was never made and The Glass Key was re-activated, with Donlevy and Ladd to star. Stuart Heisler was assigned to direct.

Paulette Goddard was originally meant to be the female lead but had to drop out due to other commitment. She was replaced at first with Patricia Morison, but after seeing Lake and Ladd together in This Gun for Hire it was decided to replace Morison with Veronica Lake. Lake was going to be making I Married a Witch but filming of that was postponed when Joel McCrea turned down the lead role.

Bonita Granville, Richard Denning and Joseph Calleia were assigned supporting roles. Old time movie stars Maurice Costello, Jack Mulhall and Pat OMalley played minor roles.


4.1. Reception Critical response

The staff at Variety magazine gave the film a favorable review, writing, "Parading a murder mystery amidst background of politics, gambling czars, romance and lusty action, this revised version of Dashiell Hammetts novel - originally made in 1935 - is a good picture of its type.Mixed well, the result is an entertaining whodunit with sufficient political and racketeer angles to make it good entertainment for general audiences. Donlevy makes the most of his role of the political leader who fought his way up from the other side of the tracks."

Critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, "The film is mostly done for entertainment purposes, as it lightly skips over the corrupt political process as merely background for the unlikely love story developing between the engaging Lake and the deadpan Ladd. The film had many undeveloped film noir themes used by other films. Howard Hawkss The Big Sleep borrowed freely from The Glass Key."

Critic Hal Erickson wrote, "Dashiel Hammetts The Glass Key, a tale of big-city political corruption, was first filmed in 1935, with Edward Arnold as a duplicitous political boss and George Raft as his loyal lieutenant. This 1942 remake improves on the original, especially in replacing the stolid Raft with the charismatic Alan Ladd.Far less complex than the Dashiel Hammett original and far less damning of the American political system, The Glass Key further increased the box-office pull of Paramounts new team of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake."

Diabolique called it a "superb film noir, achingly gorgeous to look at, and less weighed down by patriotism than This Gun for Hire. Lake is clearly inexperienced but is so beautiful and enigmatic you overlook her flaws, and she once again teams marvelously with Ladd – two blonde shorties, full of mutual smirking/contempt/admiration. The core of the film is a platonic love story between Ladd and Brian Donlevy – but these actors don’t have chemistry; Ladd and Lake do."