"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.
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?
Brian Donlevy ... Paul Madvig
Veronica Lake ... Janet Henry
Alan Ladd ... Ed Beaumont
Bonita Granville ... Opal 'Snip' Madvig
Richard Denning ... Taylor Henry
Joseph Calleia ... Nick Varna
William Bendix ... Jeff (Varna's henchman)
Frances Gifford ... Nurse
Donald MacBride ... DIst. Atty. Farr
Margaret Hayes ... Eloise Matthews
Moroni Olsen ... Ralph Henry
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.
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.
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.