Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) is a man with a lot of enemies. Chief among them is Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia), a sophisticated hoodlum who is pulling every possible string to destroy Madvig’s political career and implicate him in the murder of playboy Taylor Henry, son of one of the most powerful men in the city and brother of the beautiful Janet (Veronica Lake). Janet believes Madvig is the killer, and uses his fascination with her to find out more. The other woman in Madvig’s life, Opal, also happens to be his sister. She was romantically involved with Tracey until Madvig warned her off, and she’s convinced that he is the killer too. Madvig really isn’t having much luck with the dames.
In fact, the only friend Madvig seems to have is Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd), and that’s strained as well, not least because Beaumont is also feeling a definite connection with Janet. But after he turns down Varna’s offer to frame his friend, Beaumont finds himself on the receiving end of two very nasty thugs, an encounter he only narrowly manages to survive. Still, with the evidence mounting against him and an indictment about to send him to jail, Madvig’s luck seems to be running out. Only Ed can save him, but it’s going to take some tricky manoeuvres and a tense showdown with Varna and his murderous henchman. And then there’s the not-so-small-matter of Janet to deal with.
Based on a story by Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key has been adapted several times (including a radio version, also starring Ladd, which is included as a nice extra on this Blu-ray). Compared to the rich symphonies of the better known noirs – The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, even The Blue Dahlia (which also paired Ladd with Lake) – this plays in a fairly minor key, but it’s not without its moments: the sparring (sometimes literally) between Donlevy and Ladd is entertaining, and Lake does well as an underwritten femme fatale. The fact that every character is a stereotype, from the two-fisted leading men, the gloating bad guy, and the women who really don’t have much to do except pout, sob or cast flirtatious glances in Ladd’s direction, coupled with the fact that the plot itself has the psychological complexity of a rice cracker, doesn’t diminish any of the fun.
This is terrific escapism, and it looks great in this new Blu-ray edition. In fact, between this entry and Arrow’s recent Fritz Lang gem Hangmen Also Die, fans of Brian Donlevy are having a real treat. If you’ve only seen him play Professor Quatermass in the Hammer movies, or caught him in the brilliantly bad How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, these films are genuine eye-openers.
Special Features: Audio commentary / Visual essay / Gallery / Theatrical trailer
THE GLASS KEY / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: STUART HEISLER / SCREENPLAY: JONATHAN LATIMER / STARRING: BRIAN DONLEVY, VERONICA LAKE, ALAN LADD, JOSEPH CALLEIA / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 19TH