Crime writer Dashiell Hammett is no stranger to Hollywood; his novel The Maltese Falcon was filmed three times with the 1941 version starring Humphrey Bogart becoming an all-time classic, MGM had a long running series of movies based upon his novel The Thin Man, and he also contributed a few screenplays as well (his final script, 1943’s Watch on the Rhine, earned him an Oscar nomination). His 1931 novel The Glass Key was obviously a favorite of Paramount Pictures; they had released a film adaptation in 1935 with George Raft in the lead, but it’s the 1942 version with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake that’s the best known adaptation and a benchmark in the burgeoning film noir genre. This acclaimed version finally makes its US debut on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout Factory via their Shout Select sub-label.
The Production: 4/5
In an unnamed big city, political boss Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) plans on cleaning up his crooked act by endorsing Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen), a reform candidate for governor and marrying his daughter Janet (Veronica Lake). Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd), Paul’s right-hand man, is very leery of the proposition, believing that it’s a “glass key” liable to break at any time. He has every right to be suspicious, especially since rival gangster Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia) plots to ruin Paul and the suspicious death of Ralph’s son Taylor (Richard Denning) gives him the perfect opportunity to do so. Caught in the middle of it all, Ed must find out who is truly responsible all while trying to deal with Janet’s advances towards him, leading to a surprising revelation.
Although it arrived just before the film noir genre really took off in Hollywood, The Glass Key – along with The Maltese Falcon a year prior – helped set the template for the burgeoning genre that would fully capitalize on the themes that were developed here. Stuart Heisler, a former film editor, was given the best project of his directorial career and executes the material with great skill and style and screenwriter Jonathan Latimer established himself as a solid scribe for the noir world with this movie (he would later pen the screenplay for 1948’s The Big Clock for Paramount, most notably). Longtime Paramount production designer Hans Dreier brings the right amount of shadow, grit, and lushness to the trappings, lending itself to establishing a key component to the noir genre that would later encapsulate the second half of the 1940’s. Finally, and most important of all, the pacing is spot on, never overstaying its welcome and keeping the action moving right along during its running time; all in all, it’s basically everything that a good noir should be, done with a great sense of style and substance.
Alan Ladd adds to his solid resume with a solid performance as Ed, backing up solid advice with a mean right hook when necessary. Veronica Lake makes for a very luminous Janet; Paramount was clearly capitalizing on the success with the Ladd and Lake pairing in This Gun for Hire the same year this movie was released, and it’s very easy to see why – they have great on-screen chemistry together. In a role reversal from his success in Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty (1940), Brian Donlevy makes for a charming yet crooked political boss; that ability to play both sides served him well throughout his career, as evidenced by his Oscar nomination for Beau Geste (1939) a few years prior. Other familiar faces and notable performances include Bonita Granville (Nancy Drew herself) as Madvig’s sister “Snip”, Joseph Calleia as the conniving Varna, William Bendix as Varna’s brutal and sadistic henchman, Richard Denning as Janet’s ill-fated brother, Moroni Olsen as the gubernatorial candidate Madvig backs, Donald MacBride as the district attorney, and Dane Clark – in an unbilled part – as the ill-fated Henry Sloss, who just can’t seem to get a break at all from either Madvig or Varna.
3D Rating: NA
The movie is presented in the Academy ratio of 1:33:1 on this HD transfer. Film grain is sturdy and organic with a solid attention to fine details as well as a solid gray scale; there’s some minor instances of artifacts like dirt, dust, or speckling, but not strong enough to distract from viewing. Overall, this beats previous home video incarnations here in the US.
The original mono soundtrack is preserved on a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Dialogue is clear and strong, along with the sound effects, and Victor Young’s score has great fidelity and strength with minor instances of age related problems like crackling, popping, distortion or hissing. All in all, this is probably the best the movie has sounded on home video.
Special Features: 3/5
Commentary by film historians Alan K. Rode and Steve Mitchell – Newly recorded for this release, Rode and Mitchell go over the film’s production history as well as few interesting notes about the cast and crew. Overall, a very informative and engaging track.
Theatrical Trailer (1:37)
Photo Gallery (4:23) – A gallery of 45 promotional stills are presented here, some of them courtesy of Brett Cameron.
Note: special features not carried over from Arrow’s Region B release of the movie are a commentary by crime fiction/film noir expert Barry Forshaw, a visual essay on the movie by Alastair Phillips, and a 1946 radio dramatization of the movie featuring Alan Ladd, Marjorie Reynolds and Gene Kelly.
The Glass Key stands out as not only one of the best pairings of both Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, but also a key movie (pun intended) in the development in the film noir genre. Shout Factory, through the Shout Select label, has done a good job in bringing out the movie on Blu-ray; while light on special features, it’s strong showings in both the audio and visual department make it essential for upgrading from previous home video incarnations of the movie.
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