The Glass Key‘s a murder mystery, but its solution–and even its investigation–is incidental to the rest of the picture. From about seven minutes in, director Heisler defines Key as something quite different. Leading man Alan Ladd isn’t a detective, he isn’t even particularly interested in solving the murder.
Seven minutes in is when Ladd has his first scene with Veronica Lake. Lake plays the object of Ladd’s best friend’s affection–Brian Donlevy’s the best friend–and Ladd just stares at her. It’s a discomforting scene, Heisler and editor Archie Marshek do such an outstanding job. The film’s not exactly a love triangle, because it’s too busy being a friendship movie. But not exactly….
Key is very hard to describe. Jonathan Latimer’s screenplay has a lot of great dialogue and outstanding characters; Heisler does a fantastic job filming it. Latimer, Heisler and Ladd create a somewhat bad guy in the lead. Ladd does some rather despicable things in the picture, sometimes to people who deserve it, sometimes to people who probably don’t. And he smiles his way through all of them and still manages to be above reproach.
The film also has an amazing supporting cast, whether it’s heart-broken little Bonita Granville, sadistic closet case William Bendix, calm mobster Joseph Calleia, wormy politico Donald MacBride or just Frances Gifford’s bemused nurse. Every performance is perfect, especially the leads.
Its little moments are more profound than its entirety, but overall it’s just meant to entertain anyway.
Key is great.
Directed by Stuart Heisler; screenplay by Jonathan Latimer, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, Theodor Sparkuhl; edited by Archie Marshek; music by Victor Young; released by Paramount Pictures.
Starring Alan Ladd (Ed Beaumont), Brian Donlevy (Paul Madvig), Veronica Lake (Janet Henry), Bonita Granville (Opal Madvig), Richard Denning (Taylor Henry), Joseph Calleia (Nick Varna), Moroni Olsen (Ralph Henry), William Bendix (Jeff), Eddie Marr (Rusty), Arthur Loft (Clyde Matthews), Margaret Hayes (Eloise Matthews), Donald MacBride (Farr) and Frances Gifford (Paul’s nurse).