Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Glass Key (1942)

One of the very nice things under my tree this Christmas was the Dark Crimes DVD set from the TCM Vault Collection.

The set contains Ella Raines in PHANTOM LADY (1944) and two films starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake: THE GLASS KEY, which I reviewed briefly almost exactly six years ago, on January 3, 2007, and THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946), which I reviewed even more briefly back in 2006.

I just saw the excellent PHANTOM LADY for a second time at last year's Noir City Festival in Hollywood, so I've been especially looking forward to revisiting THE GLASS KEY and THE BLUE DAHLIA for the first time in a long while; in the intervening years since my first viewings, I've become much more knowledgeable about film noir, in general, and I've also become a fan of Ladd, in particular. Seeing Ladd and Lake on the big screen in THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942) last year was a truly memorable film experience.

The electric Ladd-Lake chemistry of THIS GUN FOR HIRE is again on display in THE GLASS KEY. In the scene where they first meet, they can't take their eyes off one another, and they seem to be having a wordless conversation all their own while the dialogue swirls around them. They're nonetheless wary of one another for most of the film, despite their undeniable attraction.

THE GLASS KEY is a political drama based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett. Brian Donlevy plays Paul Madvig, a corrupt politico who decides to change and throws his support behind a reform politician, Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen), when he's attracted to the man's daughter Janet (Lake).

Things soon get messy for Paul in multiple ways: Janet's gambler brother (Richard Denning), who was seeing Paul's sister (Bonita Granville) turns up dead, with Paul a leading suspect; and a gangster (Joseph Calleia) doesn't appreciate Paul shutting down his business as part of his efforts to clean up the city.

Ladd plays Madvig's loyal righthand man, who tries to solve the murder; along the way he tries to avoid emotional entanglements with his boss's girl, Janet, and he also suffers a terrible beating from the mobster's goon (William Bendix).

As I wrote back in 2007, the plot is somewhat muddled at times, and that sequence where Bendix roughs up Ladd goes on way too long. The pace does pick up in the last half hour as the complicated storyline untangles itself; I particularly enjoyed a wonderful sequence with Ladd and Bendix in a bar which is not only visually striking -- take a good long look at that shot of Ladd in his fedora staring at Bendix from across the room -- but has some terrific acting by Ladd, in particular. Watch for Lillian Randolph as the singer entertaining Bendix before Ladd's arrival.

Even when the storyline is murky, the movie  remains interesting thanks to the cast and a terrific sense of style. I particularly admired a shot through window blinds looking out toward a murder scene, and the film also makes wonderful use of shadows. Trenchcoats, fedoras, a rainy cemetery, a possible femme fatale -- it's all in THE GLASS KEY.

Keep a sharp eye out for Dane Clark, in one of his earliest film roles. He only has two scenes but they're memorable, particularly when he's thrown through a window!

Lovely Frances Gifford plays Ladd's nurse when he lands in the hospital. She was a charming actress who did good work at MGM in the mid '40s, starring in films such as OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945), THE ARNELO AFFAIR (1947), and LUXURY LINER (1948), only to have her career cut short by a serious auto accident in 1948.

THE GLASS KEY was directed by Stuart Heisler and filmed in black and white by Theodor Sparkuhl. Jonathan Latimer wrote the screenplay based on Hammett's book.

In addition to its brand-new DVD release, THE GLASS KEY also had a release on VHS back in 1992.

Extras on the TCM Vault DVD include an introduction by Ben Mankiewicz; brief comments by Eddie Muller, President of the Film Noir Foundation; and some very nice stills and posters.

There's more information on the film at the TCM website; the original trailer can also be seen on the TCM site.

May 2019 Update: I was fortunate to see THE GLASS KEY on a big screen at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.


Blogger dfordoom said...

I agree on Ladd-Lake chemistry. They were a terrific team.

6:34 PM  
Blogger DKoren said...

This is on my to-see list!! Looking forward to it.

8:53 AM  

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