Cinema Station

Picture of the Week: The Glass Key (1942) | May 15, 2012

This is a new series that we are inaugurating on a continuing basis here at Cinema Station… Now there are other movie blogs that already feature a recommended Movie of the Week so what makes us different?  Or are we just imitating something that has already been done? Hopefully not. We’re going to be different because the titles we select will not be from the generally accepted canon of worthwhile or critically acclaimed films. In other words our selections will not have any discernible pedigree of any kind. They are the runts of the litter, the orphans, the rude children that just won’t behave or conform, the mavericks and the outlaws.   So they will mostly be small, offbeat and often low budget works that caught our fancy or captivated our attention for one reason or another.  A different way of putting it is to say that these are films that got made, released but somehow slipped through the cracks somewhere along the way and now reside in the dark abyss of obscurity. But it doesn’t have to be that way forever. At least not here in the universe of Cinema Station. So hang with us, maybe you’ll find a gem or two among them.

The Glass Key (1942)

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a Region 2 copy of The Glass Key, starring Alan Ladd and directed by Stuart Heisler in 1942, an adaptation of the Dashiell Hammett novel. It is unavailable in the States and part of the reason for this blog is to get cinephiles excited about this film so that it might be released in the near future.

This is the best adaptation of Hammett’s work. I even prefer it to The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon because it captures the clean, lean and mean nature of the writing. It is also superior to Miller’s Crossing, the Coen Brothers’ melding of Hammett’s Red Harvest and The Glass Key. For fans of that film, watch how Alan Ladd towers over Gabriel Byrne’s later performance.

For those not familiar with the text, the story goes something like this. Ed Beaumont (Ladd) is the friend/partner and brains for Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy), syndicate leader, who decides to change his ways by supporting a reform candidate in the upcoming election, in order to win the love and hand of his daughter (Veronica Lake). The politician’s son is a no-good gambler who happens to be in love with Paul’s sister. He turns up dead and all fingers point towards Paul Madvig. Beaumont sets out to find the truth behind the murder, working two sides of a mob war and fighting off the affections of Veronica Lake, to clear his friend.

It’s good, complex storytelling and Heisler handles it well. From now on, I’ll pay attention to this studio director’s name when I see it. But the real gem here is Ladd, who is better than I’ve ever seen him (yes, even better than Shane). From the first time we see him on camera (behind his back as he is interrupted with dice in his hand) to the end, Ladd commands the screen with intelligence, cunning, and daring. This is perfect casting for Hammett’s universe, populated by cool, estranged men doing their jobs with their own distorted code of conduct. I watched the film twice in a row, the second time just to study Ladd. He effortlessly goes from ruthless to loving and back, all the time convincing.

The film itself is an exciting crime adventure, very sexy and full of superb dialog as well as thrilling action sequences. It is a shame that this film is not available in America because it belongs among our best cinema.

Side Note: Watching The Glass Key made me more anxious to see The Great Gatsby, a once-thought-lost Film Noir version of Fitzgerald’s novel also starring Alan Ladd. It recently showed at a Noir festival in San Francisco. I hope we will see a DVD or digital release for both films soon.



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