16 May 2001 | Snow Leopard
Standard Film-Noir With Some Good Moments
"The Glass Key" has all the elements expected in a film noir - it has an intricate crime-based plot, a fast pace, and an assortment of interesting characters who interact with each other in unpredictable ways. It is a fairly standard example of the genre, with a few particularly good moments.
The title comes from a metaphor used by one of the characters to describe the relationships at the center of the plot. Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) is a corrupt political boss who decides to break with his past by joining with reform-minded candidate Ralph Henry, angering some of his former cronies and confusing loyal assistant Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd). Madvig expresses confidence in his new future, saying that the upright Henry has "given me the key to his house", but Beaumont warns him that "it's a glass key - be careful it doesn't break off". The fragile nature of the relationships and careers of all of the main characters drives the action and suspense. And when Henry's wayward son turns up murdered, each character is plunged into dangerous situations.
Ladd and Donlevy are pretty good as the leads, although Veronica Lake, as candidate Henry's daughter and a focus of attention for both male leads, is somewhat lifeless in an important role, as her character is meant to drive much of the other action. The supporting cast is one of the strengths of the film. The fine character actor Joseph Calleia is excellent as a crooked businessman seeking revenge on Madvig, and William Bendix is very funny, although perhaps a bit over-the-top at times, as one of Calleia's goons.
"The Glass Key" will certainly be of interest to any film noir/crime film fan, and should be fast-paced enough to make it interesting to other viewers as well.