A political fixer tries to get to the bottom of a murder during a tight reelection campaign.
Written by iconic mystery novelist Dashiell Hammett, also responsible for the Thin Man series and The Maltese Falcon. The Glass Key is a story of big city politics at their most bare knuckle and bloody.
The Glass Key follows crook and mobster Paul Madvig as he attempts to break into the political bigtime. Wooing the support of the leader of a reformist movement, Ralph Henry and courting the man’s daughter Janet at the same time. His political ambitions are put in jeopardy following the vicious murder of his sister’s boyfriend. Who is also the son of the reform leader.
Mad Dog Madvig
Madvig relies on his political fixer, Ed Beaumont to clear his name and defuse the political bomb before it blows up his campaign. Ed’s role in the campaign is officially as an advisor but he is also PR man, enforcer and hatchet man for his boss. A position similar to George W Bush’s Karl Rove or Hillary Clinton’s Sydney Blumenthal. Intelligent, ruthless and dedicated to his boss. Ed’s loyalty is put to the test when he starts to fall for Janet Henry, the same girl his boss is courting.
Ed Beaumont, one tough character
Janet, like everyone else in this film, has her own agenda and is not above a few dirty tricks of her own. She also uses her beauty and social position as a weapon against anyone she sees as a threat to her father.
Don’t be fooled, she’s just as deadly as anyone else in this film.
The Henry family, while ostensibly respectable and intent on reforming the corrupt city; is as ruthless as anyone else in pursuing their objectives.
Janet’s met her match.
Elements such as local crime groups from Madvig’s past and the corrupt press all want to use the murder to take down Madvig who they see as a destabilizing element they don’t need.
Crime boss Nick Varna
This film is a study in how sleazy money and politics can become. Misdemeanors, indiscretions and outright felonies are swept under the rug and suppressed if politically convenient. Almost nothing is as it seems in this film. Everyone has an agenda and can change sides in a second if it’s convenient for them. No one in this film comes out of it with their hands clean. A refreshingly modern view of big time politics, especially when coming from a code era film.
In the middle of all this mess, Ed must fight all sides and deal with a boss that may not be telling him everything. Throughout the film he will battle corrupt cops, politicians, hitmen and his own friends in his quest to get to the bottom of the mystery. Being the fighter that he is, he isn’t above pulling all kinds of shenanigans and ruthless tricks of his own.
The results of Ed vs Jeff Round 1
The film is beautifully shot and well-acted. Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake are one of the most charismatic screen couples to grace Hollywood and this film shows them in their prime. The other performers are also extremely talented.
Brian Donlevy plays it perfectly as Paul “Mad-Dog” Madvig, he may be a gangster and a scoundrel, but you can’t help liking the guy anyway.
Another standout is William Bendix as the violent hit-man, Jeff. He easily steals the show any time he appears and has the best lines in a movie filled with great ones.
“Aww, my little rubber ball is back.” Jeff at his worst.
Most of the major cast members have at least one great scene or line of dialog and you’ll quickly find yourself caught up in film.
“Ya mean I don’t get to smack baby?”
The edition I reviewed is from TCM’s Dark Crimes collection and is a beautiful, clean print and clear soundtrack.
Verdict: 4.5 Gavels out of 5
This is an iconic film for any film noir fan and for those that like their political thrillers full of dark twists and turns. Pay special attention to William Bendix’s performance as Jeff. Also the chemistry between Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.