Cast & Crew
Paul Madvig, a tough political boss who hails from "the wrong side of the tracks" and is rumored to be a crook, decides to back gubernatorial reform candidate Ralph Henry after he falls for Ralph's beautiful daughter Janet. When Henry Sloss, one of Paul's assistants, protests that any association with Henry will denude Paul's power, Paul angrily throws the upstart through a glass window. Paul's best friend and advisor, Ed Beaumont, also warns the stubborn Paul against supporting Henry, stating that the "key" to Henry's house that Paul insists he has in his grasp may be a "glass key" that will break off in his hand. Later, gangster and gambling house proprietor Nick Varna visits Paul in his headquarters at the Voters League and demands that he provide his nightclubs with the protection against police interference for which he has paid. Paul warns him that he is cleaning up the town and immediately calls the police chief to shut down Varna's club for good. That night, Paul dines at the Henry home but Henry's disreputable son Taylor refuses to join them and frustrates his father by leaving to go drinking and gambling. When Ed stops by, Janet flirts with him and expresses her disbelief that he takes Paul seriously. A loyal friend, Ed rebuffs her and advises her that Paul is always straightforward. Later that night, Paul's eighteen-year-old sister Opal borrows $500 from Ed, which she gives to Taylor so that he can make a payment to Varna for his huge gambling debt. Ed forcibly drags Opal from Taylor's apartment to her home, where she argues with Paul about her relationship with Taylor. Shortly afterward, Opal calls Ed in hysterics and warns him that Paul has gone to see Taylor, and that she fears he will kill him. Ed goes to investigate and finds Taylor dead on the sidewalk outside his house. Although Paul maintains that he is innocent, suspicion of murder falls on him, and Ed becomes determined to clear Paul's name. At the funeral for Taylor, Varna tells Janet that he and the newspaper The Observer have evidence to convict Paul. District Attorney Farr and Ed then start receiving anonymous notes which suggest that Paul is guilty. Although Farr works under Paul's command, public pressure to solve the crime prompts him to rebel. Paul, meanwhile, grows resentful of Ed's advice that he make peace with Varna, and he and Ed have a falling out. Janet seeks Ed's help in finding her brother's killer, but even though Ed grudgingly admits that he likes Janet, he accuses her of "slumming" and refuses to help her. Ed tries to advise Paul again that he is being outsmarted by his enemies, but the friendly talk turns into a fistfight and the men part company. When Varna hears about the fight, he offers Ed $20,000 and stewardship of a casino if he will give The Observer information with which to frame Paul. Ed rejects his offer and is taken hostage by Varna, who has his thugs, Jeff and Rusty, beat him. In spite of several days of brutal beatings, Ed outsmarts Jeff and Rusty and escapes by starting a fire, but crashes several stories through a glass skylight. Before his final lapse into unconsciousness in the hospital, Ed warns Paul that Varna is bringing in Sloss, who claims to be a witness to Taylor's murder, to testify against him. After several days of extreme fever, Ed recovers and learns that Janet and Paul have become engaged. Ed becomes alarmed when Paul mentions that Opal has taken a mysterious trip to the countryside, and after he learns that Clyde Matthews, publisher of The Observer , has a house there, Ed leaves the hospital and goes to the country house. There he finds a gathering including Opal, Varna, Jeff, Rusty and Matthews and his wife Eloise. Convinced that her brother is guilty, Opal has given a statement to Matthews to publish, which verifies that Paul pursued Taylor after they argued. Hoping to shake up the group's complacency, Ed tells Eloise that Varna intends to call in the mortgage on The Observer after Matthews publishes Opal's damning article, which will force the paper into bankruptcy. Disgusted that she has spent five years with a loser, Eloise then seduces Ed. Distraught, Matthews is found dead after apparently commiting suicide and Ed burns the suspicious-looking note which names Varna executor of his estate. Just as Rusty and Jeff are about to beat Ed, Paul appears and knocks Jeff out. Varna leaves, and Ed advises Paul to get a judge to appoint immediately an administrator for the Matthews estate who will cancel Opal's story. Paul then captures Sloss and plans to hide him, until a mysterious gunman shoots Sloss. Paul finally admits to Ed that when he argued with Taylor, he hit him, causing Taylor to strike his head on the curb and die. Paul is arrested by Farr and held for questioning. Ed, meanwhile, has discovered that Janet has been typing the anonymous notes. Ed tracks the sadistic Jeff to a grungy bar and cautiously tries to lure him into linking Varna to Taylor's murder, but Varna comes in and tells him to keep quiet. Jeff resents Varna's control over him, and after admitting that he killed Sloss, he attacks Varna and chokes him to death. Jeff is arrested, and Ed presses Farr to make out an arrest warrant for Janet because he is convinced that she is framing Paul because she is guilty. Farr reluctantly goes with Ed to the Henry home late that night to arrest Janet. Before they take her away, Henry breaks down and admits that it was he who killed his son accidentally during their argument, and had asked Paul not to say anything. Paul is released and makes plans to select a new gubernatorial candidate. Later, at Ed's apartment, Janet confesses that she is in love with him, and although Ed reciprocates her feelings, he remains loyal to Paul and rejects her. Paul overhears their conversation and, seeing that their love is true, takes back his engagement ring and sends them off with his best wishes.
Ed Peil Sr.
John W. Denoria
Arthur Stuart Hull
B. G. Desylva
The Glass Key (1942) - The Glass Key
Full of tough talk, brutal violence, and a dash of romance, this 1942 version of Dashiell Hammett's novel is quite faithful to the book, and it's generally considered superior to the 1935 film version starring George Raft. Perhaps the main difference between the two, aside from the remake's shadowy noir look and bigger budget, is that the character of Ed Beaumont as played by Ladd is much less concerned with behaving morally than George Raft was in the original. Beaumont is loyal to his boss Madvig, but he has no problem with standing by during a murder, stealing and destroying a will, and basically causing a character to commit suicide. Of course, for the film noir style that was just getting underway in 1942, such antiheroic qualities were perfect.
The Glass Key started production before the release of This Gun for Hire (1942), the first Lake/Ladd pairing which would soon ignite screens across the country. And interestingly enough, Lake wasn't originally cast in the new film. Patricia Morison shot a few scenes before it was decided that she was too tall. Lake was then brought in to replace her mainly because she looked good standing with Ladd (he was 5'5", she was barely 5 feet). Little did the studio executives know how lucky a choice they had made, for like This Gun for Hire, The Glass Key would become a huge hit thanks to the public's excitement over the red-hot team. (Two more Ladd/Lake films were to follow: The Blue Dahlia, 1946 and Saigon, 1948.)
Ironically, top billing went to Brian Donlevy - who delivers a superbly charismatic performance - and the picture was practically stolen by William Bendix. Has there ever been a more lovable pathological screen heavy? He gives Ladd one of the cinema's most memorable beatings, calling him "baby" in the process. He spits contemptuously at the floor before leaving a room, and he has the film's best, funniest lines. "I'm just a big good-natured slob," he says after strangling a character to death. At a funeral, he suggests to his boss that they "knock off [Donlevy] right here - that way they won't have to take him far to bury him."
During the film's memorable beating scene, Bendix accidentally slugged Ladd in the jaw for real, knocking him out. (The take survives in the finished film.) Bendix felt awful and he burst into tears. When Ladd woke up, he was so touched by Bendix's reaction that he became friends with the actor and requested him for many of his future films, helping him with his career as best he could.
But that wasn't the only accidental real-life beating on the set. In the opening scene, Lake's character was called upon to sock Donlevy in the jaw. Lake disliked Donlevy. They had worked together on I Wanted Wings (1941) and she knew he didn't think much of her acting ability so she took this opportunity to actually hit him, and as he wasn't prepared for a punch of any real force, she almost knocked him out. "I'd learned in my Brooklyn youth to lead with the hip when you throw a punch," Lake wrote in her autobiography. "Every pound I owned was behind it when it caught his jaw." Seething, Donlevy asked her why she had connected, and she admitted she didn't know how to pull her punches. "I'll give you until the next take to learn," he said and walked away.
Though Ladd and Lake were by all accounts never more than cordial with one another (studio publicity to the contrary), Lake, like Ladd, hit it off with William Bendix, and they too became close friends. "I came to adore the guy," she later wrote. "It was a platonic adoration for a marvelous human being."
Producer: Fred Kohlmar
Director: Stuart Heisler
Screenplay: Jonathan Latimer, Dashiell Hammett (novel)
Cinematography: Theodor Sparkuhl
Film Editing: Archie Marshek
Art Direction: Haldane Douglas, Hans Dreier
Music: Victor Young, Walter Scharf
Cast: 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).
BW-86m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold
The Glass Key (1942) - The Glass Key
My first wife was the second cook at a third-rate joint on 4th Street.- Rusty
I just met the swellest dame... She smacked me in the kisser.- Paul Madvig
I'm going to society. He's practically given me the key to his house.- Paul Madvig
Yeah, a glass key. Be sure it doesn't break in your hand.- Ed Beaumont
I'm too big to take the boot from you now.- Nick Varna
You may be too big to take it laying down, Nick, but you're gonna take it. You are taking it.- Paul Madvig
Look, Rainey, I just got the tip that Nick is opening his Golden Club, tonight. Yeah, slam them down so hard they'll splash.- Paul Madvig
Well, Nick, now you know where you stand.- Paul Madvig
Hollywood Reporter news items note that Patricia Morison was initially cast in the role of "Janet Henry," but was replaced by Veronica Lake before shooting began. Paramount's 1935 film The Glass Key was also based on Dashiell Hammett's novel, and was directed by Frank Tuttle and starred George Raft and Edward Arnold (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.1636).