The Glass Key is a wonderfully dark film that must be digitized – especially since it is not available as a US-format DVD or even a VHS tape.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in the process of bringing all my entertainment into digital form, to take with me when traveling and eliminate some of the clutter in my home. Unfortunately, these three films, which include one of my Top Ten movies, are not available digitally.
Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake starred in three classic gangster/noir films – This Gun for Hire and The Glass Key in 1942, and The Blue Dahlia in 1946. (The pair also starred in Saigan in 1948, a ‘doomed romance’ film, and guest-starred in three other films.)
This Gun for Hire set the tone for the pair – while they would be romantically interested in one another, they never got together until the end of the film (if then). Something, someone – or both – always stood between them. In Gun, Ladd played a hired killer named Raven, a cold and heartless man. By the movie’s end, he’d come to feel something for Lake’s character, enough to spare people and extract a confession from his bosses (rather than just kill them in revenge) – because she asked him to do so. And in Dahlia, Ladd’s character returns home from war to find his wife is cheating on him, was responsible for the death of their son, and is mixed up in crime. He meets Lake while leaving his wife – unaware that she’s the estranged wife of one of his friends. When his wife is murdered, he becomes a suspect, and things play out from there.
Both of these movies are well worth viewing, but for a variety of reasons, Key remains my favorite of the trio.
The Glass Key, like so many other wonderful books and films (like The Thin Man) was written by Dashiell Hammett. The Ladd-Lake version was its second filming – I’ve not, as yet, managed to see the original version from the mid-1930’s.
The plot revolves around an election (timely, yes?). Paul, a political boss, falls in love with Janet, the daughter of an ‘honest’ man running for governor. By a strange coincidence, his sister is also in love – with Janet’s brother Taylor, who is deep in debt to the criminal running the city.
For love, Paul decides to ensure her father wins the election – and to also ‘clean up’ the city, removing his protection from the criminal. However, Ed, his lieutenant, suspects that Janet is simply making sure her father wins the election by playing along with Paul – and he’s proven right when Janet becomes interested in him.
Naturally, something happens – Taylor is murdered, and Paul is the prime suspect. The criminal tortures Ed to get him to reveal information. A possible witness to Taylor’s murder is himself murdered, there’s a suicide, the criminal is killed by his own hired gun. In the end, the murderer is revealed – the ‘honest’ candidate for office killed his own son.
No one in this movie seems to be completely free of corruption – or without a redeeming quality. Paul and Ed run the elections – and try to do the right thing for love and loyalty. Janet lies to get her father elected – and yet cannot continue to do so because she loves Ed. Paul’s baby sister, the criminals – they all have good, and bad, qualities. Even the ‘honest’ politician, who could have kept silent, confesses to save his daughter, who was arrested for her brother’s murder.
There are so many twists to the plot that it’s a movie that requires close attention – and when you play that much attention to a movie, you spot something new on each viewing. And so it is with this film – each time I watch it, I catch a look I hadn’t noticed before on an actor’s face, a slight change in camera angle that adds nervousness to a scene – even a subtle vocal inflection that changes the meaning of a throwaway phrase uttered by a character.
Of course, watching this film is difficult, if not nearly impossible for many. It was released only for a limited time on VHS tape. There is a DVD available from Amazon – but it’s an import with foreign language subtitles locked onto the screen, and according to the reviews I’ve read, those subtitles block some of the action in critical scenes. If it ever was released as a US-format DVD, it’s certainly no longer being listed for sale anywhere that I’ve found. Gun is available on DVD, while Dahlia appears to be in the same fix as Key. And none of them are available by digital download.
I do have a copy of Key’s VHS tape, but, as we all know, tapes wear out. I was able to burn a DVD of Gun and Dahlia when they were shown on Turner Classic Movies, but Key has not turned up on TV as yet (or if it did, I missed it!).
Meanwhile, I watch my tape sparingly, and continue to hope for the digital release of The Glass Key, as well as This Gun for Hire and The Blue Dahlia. Movies I love, watch often — and want to keep instantly available.