Review: Stuart Heisler’s “The Glass Key,” Starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake

Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd, and Veronica Lake in
Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd, and Veronica Lake in "The Glass Key"

This Gun For Hire stars Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake were quickly re-teamed by Paramount for an adaptation of The Maltese Falcon author Dashiell Hammett’s tale of murderous gangsters and corrupt politicians, The Glass Key. Ladd plays the right-hand man to Brian Donlevy, whose corrupt political boss uses his power to support a reform candidate (Moroni Olsen) in the upcoming election—mainly to get close to the candidate’s daughter (Lake). When the candidate’s troubled son is found dead, Donlevy is accused, and Ladd finds himself hunting down the true story, while falling in love with Lake himself. There are all sorts of other twists and turns packed into the 85 minute runtime, so The Glass Key is at the very least never boring. But Ladd’s character is thinly sketched, and as a result his performance shifts between the dark, brooding type he played so well in This Gun For Hire to a more generic charismatic criminal that he struggles more to pull off. Lake is good in her minimal role, and William Bendix makes an impression as a particularly violent henchman, but Donlevy’s effortlessly charming performance is the standout of the picture. Ultimately This Gun For Hire has better performances from the stars and a more consistent tone, while on The Maltese Falcon John Huston made better sense of Hammett’s convoluted plots than screenwriter Jonathan Latimer is able to here. But for those not expecting another outright classic, The Glass Key functions well enough to stand above many worse crime films of the era.

Where to Watch

Buy it on DVD

For More on The Glass Key

Read the review in The New York Times

Read the review in Variety

Watch the Trailer