The Glass Key (1942)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 11/27/14
Cast: Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Alad Ladd, William Bendix, Bonita Granville

A fun little murder mystery from Dashiell Hammett about a crooked politician named Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) who is trying to clean up his act by shutting down the local gangsters and supporting a reform platform. When his political partner's son ends up dead, Madvig's political campaign takes a dive and everyone pins the murder on him. Everyone except his close friend and business associate, Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd). Ed puts himself through the wringer trying to prove Paul's innocence, and takes a hell of a beating from a sadistic, psychotic, and slightly homoerotic William Bendix in the process (a role that he knows all too well). Throw in a couple of spiteful dames (Veronica Lake and Bonita Granville) who also want to see Paul hang, and Ed's got his work cut out for him.

It's a well made and tightly scripted film, and the tension is doled out at a steady pace. The romantic spark between Lake and Ladd is immediately apparent, and when she's not casting seductive glances his way she is literally throwing herself at him. Curiously, Ladd repeatedly turns her away out of respect for his friend, which is what drives the sexual tension through the roof. Until the film's overly convenient happy ending, that is. Ms. Lake is lovely throughout the film and her wardrobe is impeccable, while Alan Ladd is his usual stiff self with an unsettling fake smile. However, he does get to loosen up and stretch his acting skills a bit when he's beaten to a pulp by William Bendix. Bendix is wonderfully psychotic and everything about him makes you uncomfortable. He's a loose cannon who takes perverse pleasure in violence, and his interactions with Ladd are full of lust and sexual longing. He's a scary and very creepy guy. Film noir fans may find the whole thing a bit bland, but fans of Lake and Ladd should be pleased.