Glass Key, The (1942)

Glass Key, The (1942)

“A funeral’s hardly the place to talk about a murder — even privately.”

A crime boss (Brian Donlevy) in love with the daughter (Veronica Lake) of an aspiring politician (Moroni Olsen) asks his right-hand man (Alan Ladd) to help smooth over a sticky situation involving Lake’s brother (Richard Denning) owing money to a gambler (Joseph Calleia) whose henchman (William Bendix) takes perverse pleasure in beating people up; meanwhile, Denning’s girlfriend (Bonita Granville) — also Donlevy’s sister — tries desperately to help her boyfriend stay out of trouble.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan Ladd Films
  • Bonita Granville Films
  • Brian Donlevy Films
  • Murder Mystery
  • Political Corruption
  • Veronica Lake Films
  • William Bendix Films

This second cinematic adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s 1931 novel — following a 1935 version co-starring George Raft and Edward Arnold — was directed by Stuart Heisler and is generally considered the better of the two. Made the same year Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake co-starred in This Gun For Hire (1942), audiences were eager to see the petite couple reunited on screen:

Unfortunately, their performances get off to a rocky start, with too many repetitive shots simply showing them giving each other a knowing glance when they first meet:

Donlevy is more effective as the gullible mobster taken in by everyone around him:

… though it’s supporting players Bonita Granville:

… and thuggish William Bendix:

… who really stand out as authentically engaged in their roles. Indeed, Bendix’s gleeful sadism is perhaps the film’s most memorable aspect, with most of his lines revealing a single-minded focus on harming people:

“Hey, Rusty, Little Rubber Ball is back. I told you he liked the way we bounced him around.”

“Wait a minute, you mean I don’t get to smack Baby?”

“Hey, Gang! Meet the swellest guy I ever skinned a knuckle on.”

“I got just the place for me and you – a little room upstairs that’s too small for you to fall down in. I can bounce you around off the walls. That way we won’t be wasting a lot of time while you get up off the floor.”

“Go on, sit in any chair you want to sit in. If you don’t like that one, take another one. I want you to consider yourself my guest. We’ll have a couple of drinks, and then I’m gonna knock your teeth out.”

Storywise, the narrative is as complex as one would expect in such a twisted tale of criminality, politics, and love triangles; it’s too bad it all ends like a light-hearted rom-com.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Bonita Granville as Opal
  • William Bendix as Jeff
  • Noirish cinematography

Must See?
No, though fans of Lake will likely want to check it out.


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