Shades of Shane Blogathon- “The Glass Key” (1942)

It’s the 70th anniversary of Shane, a western widely considered one of the best of all time–it’s even one of the movies on my scratch-off poster, “100 Essential Films.” However, I’ve never seen it. It’s definitely on my list though. I recently discovered Alan Ladd over the past year or so and I love Jean Arthur. Shane is her last film. Anyway, when I saw this blogathon, and saw that the objective was to discuss anyone associated with Shane, a la Alan Ladd, I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about my favorite Ladd collaboration with frequent co-star, Veronica Lake–The Glass Key.

Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in The Glass Key.

The Glass Key is based on the 1931 Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name. I haven’t read Hammett’s novel, so I am not going to attempt to compare and contrast the film and book. In the film, Alan Ladd plays Ed Beaumont, the right-hand man for the corrupt politician, Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy). Madvig is presented as being arrogant and full of bravado, when he really doesn’t have room to do so. He also fancies himself as a ladies’ man and has his eye on Janet Henry (Lake), the daughter of gubernatorial candidate, Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen). Janet finds Paul repulsive and crass, but she puts up with him for the sake of her father’s political campaign. Paul is very influential and is working tirelessly to get Ralph elected, no matter how sketchy the tactics.

One evening at the Henry estate, Paul is having dinner with Janet, Ralph and her brother Taylor (Richard Denning). Paul and Janet are engaged, despite Janet’s distaste of Paul’s crude manner. Ed shows up at the home because he distrusts Janet and Ralph, thinking that they’re using Paul, and he wants to protect his boss. Janet is instantly attracted to Ed (because duh, Alan Ladd is hot). Ed is also attracted to Janet, but keeps the relationship platonic out of loyalty to his boss. Meanwhile, Paul’s sister, Opal (Bonita Granville), is dating Taylor, despite his constant gambling and drunkenness. Paul is against his sister’s involvement with this ne’er do well and Ralph is exasperated by his son’s behavior as it could negatively impact his political campaign.

Veronica wears a couple different hats with fabric that covers her hair in this film.

Finally, if all this plot weren’t enough, Paul has also angered the local mob, led by Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia) and his henchman, Jeff (William Bendix). Paul informs Nick that he’s trying to clean up the city and will no longer help protect Nick from the police. When Ed overhears Paul’s threat, he is concerned about what type of revenge Nick and his boys will seek against Paul. Meanwhile, Paul catches Opal with Taylor and is incensed. He leaves his and Opal’s apartment in a rage. Later, Taylor’s body is found lying on the side of the road and Paul is the main suspect. Ed then takes it upon himself to investigate Taylor’s death and help exonerate his boss.

William Bendix beat the crap out of Alan Ladd in The Glass Key. It’s not often you see the attractive lead look so horrible.

I think The Glass Key is a great movie–full of twists and turns. The story definitely didn’t resolve in the way that I thought it would and the answer to the murder mystery isn’t clear at first. There is a shocking brutal scene where Nick Varna has his boys rough up Ed after he refuses to join their gang. William Bendix beats the pulp out of Alan Ladd and the makeup artists did not mess around when it came to making Ladd look like he had his face beaten in. Normally in these movies, the director/studio doesn’t want their attractive lead to look bad, so they’ll have them be beat up and then be seen later with a tiny band-aid above one of their eyes. Not in this movie. Alan Ladd’s face is swollen, bruised and bloodied.

I loved the scene when Ed shows up to the newspaper editor’s home and crashes a party that the local newspaper editor is holding. Ed swiftly reveals that the editor is about to be ruined when news gets out that he has accepted bribes from the mob. With just a few words, Ed deftly ruins a marriage and the man’s wife, Eloise, moves on instantly…with Ed. In a rather bold scene, it is implied that Ed and Eloise have sex on the couch. They are then seen drinking and making out on the couch, all while Eloise’s now-estranged husband watches from the top landing on the stairs. The first time I saw this film, I was actually pretty shocked how salacious and straight-forward this scene is, what with the production code and all. We don’t see Ed and Eloise have sex, but it’s pretty obvious–much more obvious than some other implied sex scenes I’ve seen.

Eloise gives Alan Ladd the come hither look and I don’t blame her for a second.

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake are often held up as one of film noir’s great romantic couples. I’m always surprised in their films how long it takes for them to actually be romantic. The Glass Key has a bit of a “will-they or won’t-they?” type vibe, but ultimately the film resolves in the way that you would want, after so much brutality. Poor Alan Ladd really runs the gamut in this film, from having the snot beat out of him by William Bendix, to having sex with a stranger on the couch. However, I absolutely love this movie. The story is compelling and the cinematography is excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see a great film noir or great movie in general!

I love the use of shadow in this scene with Brian Donlevy and Alan Ladd.

8 thoughts on “Shades of Shane Blogathon- “The Glass Key” (1942)

  1. Loved your write-up, Kayla — I’m a fan of all of the Ladd-Lake films. It’s been years since I’ve seen this one, though, and I will have to give it a rewatch — I don’t remember the scene with Ed and Eloise!

    — Karen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on VT Dorchester and commented:
    This movie has (I think! I need to rewatch it!) one of my favourite film noir moments of all time. I have it on my box and I don’t know why I keep waiting to watch it again. I think it’s because I feel it’s so special I want the perfect reason to watch it – but maybe I’m better off making the reason the movie itself!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a twisty little film! I can never make up my mind as to whether Ed and Eloise do more than just make out — you can really kind of take it either way. I like the book a lot, too.

    I chuckled aloud when I hit this line of yours: Janet is instantly attracted to Ed (because duh, Alan Ladd is hot). Um, yes, exactly. He is ridiculously, unfairly hot.

    Maybe you know this, but I love this tidbit so I will share it anyway: when they were filming the beating scene, William Bendix failed to pull one punch correctly and actually knocked Alan Ladd cold. (That shot actually made it into the movie, and you can kinda tell which punch it is because Ladd goes totally limp instantly instead of falling backward cleanly.) Bendix was so genuinely remorseful and upset about it, apologizing over and over when Ladd came to, that Ladd couldn’t help but forgive him, and they became super good friends after that. What a funny way to begin a friendship, eh?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Alan Ladd was super hot. It’s a shame he was so self-conscious about his height. He doesn’t seem that short to me. I read that he was between 5’6-5’7, which isn’t short to 5’2 me. But I guess if his peers were tall men like Errol Flynn, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, etc. etc. I could see why he felt self-conscious about it.

      I definitely think that Eloise and Ed have sex on the couch. I’ll have to watch it again to remember specifically *why* I think that, but I remember thinking this when I saw “The Glass Key” for the first time.

      I’ll need to rewatch this movie to watch the fight between Ladd and Bendix to see if I can figure out which punch it is that knocked him out. Ladd and Bendix made so many films together, I love their rapport on-screen just as much as I love Ladd and Lake’s. I’m glad to know that they were friends off screen as well.


  4. Andrea

    Ha, you were faster, Rachel, I had half a mind to mention the Ladd/Bendix episode. Imagine heavyweight Bendix bursting into tears as soon as he (and director Heisler who had happily yelled “cut, print”) realized what had happened. No wonder Ladd was impressed by Bendix’ concern. – I like (almost) all Ladd movies (yeah, he was oh so hot indeed), but I admit I have some problems with “The Glass Key”. It’s supposed to be a murder mystery and I found the mystery to be slightly on the weak side. Then I usually like Brian Donlevy as a slick heavy in a Western saloon, but I found him not that convincing as a politician here (hamming it up a bit, I think)… And I’m somewhat puzzled by the “friendship” between Beaumont and a louse like Madvig. – But who knows, the US hardboildes (novels & films) might just be a bit too hard for this European softie…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now I’m going to have to rewatch “The Glass Key” to see if I can figure out which punch it is that knocks Ladd out. I think I’ve only ever seen Donlevy in film noir, so I thought he was fine, and his hammyness and smarminess was perfect as a US-based politician.

      I don’t really know why Ed was so devoted to Paul either, except maybe he was paid handsomely by him and wanted to protect his salary, or maybe he’d been working with him for a long time and felt some level of loyalty toward him. I wonder if the original novel would fill in more of their relationship before Veronica Lake comes into the picture.


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