Review: The Glass Key

The Glass Key is an early classic film noir from 1942 directed by Stuart Heisler. This film is based on one of the greatest noir and hard-boiled authors ever, Dashiell Hammett.

I have not read this book yet, but it is on my long “to read” list. I have read a few things from Hammett and loved everything I’ve read so far.

This film is a very complex film, with many characters important to the story, as they all effect each other until we get to the bottom of the main crime. So I’m going to approach this a little different then I usually do. We are going to look at most of the characters and a brief description of what drives them.

Ed Beaumont played by Alan Ladd: Ed is loyal to his friend, Paul Madvig, even though he knows sometimes this is not the best thing to be. He is also fascinated by our femme fatale for this tale Janet Henry. Ed is a smart man with many connections in the political world as well as the criminal world and bonces from one to the other with ease.

Paul Madvig played by Brian Donlevy: Paul is a political powerhouse, but is well known to be crooked. He often answers questions with his fists instead of with his wits. He is a feared man in our city and plans on marrying Janet Henry. He also is helping Janet’s father get elected as governor. He is also overprotective of his little sister, who happens to be dating Janet’s brother Taylor. Paul does not like Taylor and thinks he is a bad influence on his young sister.

Janet Henry played by Veronica Lake: Janet is our femme fatale, she is dating Paul, but plans on dumping him as soon as her dad is elected governor. She seems to Like Ed, but can do nothing about it until after the election. She is smart and beautiful and knows how to use both attributes to get what she wants for her and her family.

Opal ‘Snip’ Madvig played by Bonita Granville: Opal is Paul’s little sister and is madly in love with Taylor. When Taylor ends up murdered, she believes her brother did it.

Taylor Henry played by Richard Denning: Taylor has a gambling problem and owes some bad men some money. He uses Opal to help her get some cash after his family has decided to not help him anymore. Taylor ends up murdered and finding out who did it is the driving force of this story.

Nick Varna played by Joseph Calleia: Varna owns a number of illegal gambling operations in the city. When Paul decides to crack down on crime in the city to help Henry get elected governor, Varna is his first victim. This happens even though Varna has been paying protection to Paul. “business is business and politics is politics.” Taylor Henry also owes Varna his gambling debts.

Jeff played by William Bendix: Jeff is Varna’s top muscle. He likes to beat people up, but he has a hard time keeping his mouth shut.

As most of my readers know I don’t like spoilers and don’t write any in my reviews. Hopefully this array of characters is enough to get you excited to see this film. Everybody is great in this, especially Ladd, Lake and Bendix. The story is very complicated but easy to follow. Hammett’s storytelling is some of the best ever.

It is interesting seeing this after watching Miller’s Crossing. Miller’s Crossing is loosely based on this book and Red Harvest by Hammett and you can see the similarities. This would make a great double feature seeing this version from 1942 and comparing it to the version from 1990. I loved both of these films and reviewed Miller’s Crossing earlier here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/02/15/re-watching-the-classics-a-fresh-look-at-millers-crossing/

This is also the second Ladd and Lake film I’ve seen, the other is The Blue Dahlia, which also starred Bendix as well. I really loved that film as well and reviewed it here:

https://everythingnoir.com/2015/03/07/review-the-blue-dahlia/

I really look forward to seeing more films with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake soon and think they made a great pair.

This is a must see for any noir fan, especially those of Ladd, Lake, and Bendix. It is also a must see for fans of Hammett’s books and work.

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Review: Macao

Macao started out being directed by Josef von Sternberg but was finished up by Nicholas Ray.  Howard Hughes had his hand in making this film so a great many people were fired and hired on the writing staff and of course the original director.  It’s a miracle this film came out as good as it did.

Our story starts out with a New York police officer being killed in Macao, by getting a knife to the back.  We then meet our femme fatale Jane Russell in a ship cabin with a man who starts to get a little aggressive with her.  Robert Mitchum comes in to save the day.  Russell moves on and soon meets a traveling salesmen played by William Bendix.  Soon the three hit it off as they are on their way to Macao.  Mitchum discovers he has lost his wallet, as it was stolen by Russell.  She takes the money and dumps the wallet.  Our threesome come into the Macao port and Mitchum must report to the local police because he has no passport or identification.  The police officer is working with casino owner played by Brad Dexter and they both think Mitchum is telling a story and is really another cop from New York.  The casino becomes the center in which our 4 characters revolve, with Russell getting a job there as a singer.  We also meet Gloria Grahame as our casino owners girlfriend.  Nobody is what they seem and the plot has some interesting twists all the way to the end.

This film has a lot of star power and an unique setting for a classic film noir.  This gives us a really cool look at 1950’s Macao and gives us an interesting story to follow.  This is a fun film noir and worth a viewing for noir fans.  If you love any of the stars, you will like this film. This isn’t the best noir with Mitchum, but I haven’t seen any bad noirs with Mitchum either.

Review: The Blue Dahlia

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So did anybody write better classic noir dialog than Raymond Chandler?  I don’t think so, his wise cracking P.I. Phillip Marlowe will always be one of the greatest fictional character of not only noir, but all of fiction.  Though we don’t have Marlowe in The Blue Dahlia, we are not missing on the crackling dialog.

Clean sheets every day they tell me.  How often do they change the fleas?

Seems I’ve lost my manners or would anyone here know the difference?

Joyce Harwood: Well, don’t you even say ‘Good night’?
Johnny Morrison: It’s good-bye, and it’s tough to say good-bye.
Joyce Harwood: Why is it? You’ve never seen me before tonight.
Johnny Morrison: Every guy’s seen you before somewhere. The trick is to find you.

You’ve got the wrong lipstick on, Mister.

‘Dad’ Newell: [examining Helen’s body] Been dead for hours.
Mr. Hughes, assistant hotel manager: Suicide?
‘Dad’ Newell: Could be.
Mr. Hughes, assistant hotel manager: Better be!
‘Dad’ Newell: Unh-unh! Too much gun!

I know I’ve got lots of faults, but being in love with you isn’t one of them, is it?

These are some of my favorite quotes from this film, and if it was just the dialog this would be a 4 out of 5 star film.  But Raymond Chandler doesn’t just write great dialog, he can put together a pretty good plot too.  This has three friends coming back from the war. Our hero is played by Alan Ladd, who goes to see his wife.  She is having a party and he soon finds out that she has a new beau.  The new boyfriend played by Howard Da Silva, owns the night club “The Blue Dahlia” for which the movie is named.  Soon our hero’s wife played wonderfully by Doris Dowling, she is just the right amount of evil that we can see why our hero wants free of her, but also the right amount of sadness that we feel sorry for her having to be by herself while her husband was at war.  She’s mad, but we understand why.  She is found dead and we don’t know if it’s suicide or murder.  The police start with the most likely suspects, which includes our hero.  Now he has to find the killer before he takes the fall for murder.  Along the way we have William Bendix playing Buzz.  Buzz is a great character who has some brain damage from the war, does he also have post-traumatic stress syndrome before we really knew what it was?    Then of course we have Veronica Lake who plays the night club owners wife.  I would call her the femme fatale of this film, but she doesn’t try to decisive anybody, or use anybody, or try to get away with anything, she’s actually a truly good person.

Raymond Chandler had to change his original ending and was not happy about this.  I will not tell you why or how it is changed here, because it is a spoiler and we don’t believe in that here, but after you watch it you can probably see what is changed and maybe even why given the time frame of when the film was made.

A couple of historic trivia bits for you.

1.  Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake appeared in a number of movies together and rumors started that they where having an affair.  Both always denied this, and it is not known if the rumors where true or not.

2. Elizabeth Short got her nickname The Black Dahlia from this film.  She embraced her new nickname and took to wearing a black dahlia flower in her hair.  She died less than a year after this.  She became the subject of the classic James Ellroy book and not-so classic film, “The Black Dahlia” and part of Los Angeles lore forever.

I really liked this film for its sharp dialog and surprising twists and turns.  A classic noir that all fans should see.

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