“THE GLASS KEY” (1935) Review
Years ago, I watched the 1942 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930-31 novel called “The Glass Key”. At the time, I had no idea that there had been a previous adaptation. Then I stumbled across one – produced and released by the same movie studio, Paramount Pictures, back in 1935.
“THE GLASS KEY” told the story of Ed Beaumont, a gambler and the brainy aide of a crooked political boss named Paul Madvig. The latter plans to support the political campaign of the corrupt Senator John T. Henry and marry the latter’s daughter Janet. Unfortunately, the senator’s son, Taylor Henry, is a gambling addict who is in debt to a gangster named Shad O’Rory, a gangster whose club Paul intends to put out of business. Also, Taylor has been romancing Paul’s younger sister, Opal Madvig, much to the political boss’ dismay. When Ed finds Taylor’s dead body not far from Paul’s home, everyone begins to suspect him of murder. Ed begins an investigation to discover Taylor’s true killer, much to the displeasure of not only O’Rory, but also the Henry family and Paul.
I have read a few reviews of “THE GLASS KEY”. Most of the reviews seemed to be of the opinion that it is more of a film noir than the 1942 version. To be honest, I did not make a big deal of trying to determine how much of a noir movie it was. I was too busy trying to maintain my interest in the story. What can I say? The plot seemed pretty damn good. And screenwriters Kathryn Scola and Kubec Glascom, along with dialogue scribe Harry Ruskin did a very solid job of adapting Hammett’s novel. Sure, they made a few nips and tucks in the narrative. But overall, I had no real problems with the story.
The performances in “THE GLASS KEY” struck me as pretty solid. I thought the most memorable performances came from Edward Arnold as political boss Paul Madvig, Claire Dodd as Janet Henry, Guinn Williams as the O’Rory thug Jeff, and Ray Milland as the privileged and weak senator’s son, Paul Henry. All gave very interesting performances. Rosalind Keith, Charles Richman and Robert Glecker also gave solid performances as Opal Madvig, Senator Henry and Shad O’Rory. One would notice that I have not said anything about lead actor George Raft. Before one assumes that I have a low opinion of his performance . . . I do not. I thought he did a pretty solid job, even if there were moments he came off as slightly wooden. He certainly did a pretty good job in carrying the film.
So, if I had no problems with the movie’s narrative and the acting . . . why did I find it so difficult to maintain my interesting in the film? I have to lay most of the blame on director Frank Tuttle. I found his direction of the film rather dull and lifeless. Boring. It is a miracle that the cast managed to rise above his insipid direction. In fact, I find it a crime that a director could make a movie with a first-rate narrative and an eighty minute running time so dull and slow. Even the famous scene in which Ed Beaumont suffered a beating at the hands of Jeff the Thug came off as slightly dull.
Another problem I had with “THE GLASS KEY” proved to be its production values. Just because a movie has been labeled as a film noir does not mean I had to spend most of the film trying to make out the shapes and figures on the screen. There were plenty of moments when I could barely make out the images on the screen, due to Henry Sharp’s photography. I found it incredibly dark at times. Sharp’s dim photography was not helped by Hans Dreier and A. Earl Hedrick’s art direction for this film. I was less than impressed by the film’s production designs and art direction. The entire film looked as if it had been produced as an off-Broadway stage play. I have seen Warner Brothers B-movies released three or four years earlier that looked more prestigious. When one combines dark photography with less-than-mediocre production designs, well . . . it does not look good for a movie based upon a first-rate novel by Dashiell Hammett.
“THE GLASS KEY” had plenty of virtues to offer – solid and excellent acting from a cast led by George Raft, and first-rate adaptation of Hammett’s novel. It seems a pity that those virtues seemed wasted by the movie’s mediocre production values, a slow pacing and limpid direction by Frank Tuttle. Oh well. It has been years since I saw the 1942 version of Hammett’s story. It would be interesting to see how it fares in compare to this film.