Title: The Glass Key
Release Date: 1942
Length: 85 minutes
Director: Stuart Heisler
Starring: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Brian Donlevy
There are a number of screen pairings that became famous because of the chemistry between the leads or the quality of the movies made or both. We can all name some of them: Bogey and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy, Astaire and Rogers, etc. And that’s without even mentioning comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. Some of them are less well-remembered than they deserve, like William Powell and Myrna Loy, and the stars of this film are one such pairing.
Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake starred together in four noir (or noir-ish) films in the 1940’s. Ladd plays his typical tough-guy role, Lake does her part as the femme fatale and though the ending is Hollywood, it’s recognizably in the neighborhood of noir. Who knows, maybe they did so well as star-crossed lovers in rough circumstances because they both had the same sort of darkness inside that led each to basically drink themselves to death.
To anyone familiar with the basic outlines of the plot, it will no doubt remind you of something. It borrows most heavily, of course, from the Hammett novel of the same name and upon which it is nominally based, but even if you’re not familiar with the book, something else will no doubt come to mind. The Coens’ Miller’s Crossing perhaps. Or maybe Yojimbo or Fist Full of Dollars, or even perhaps Last Man Standing.
Ladd appears to play both sides against the middle while secretly wooing Lake. Or maybe he’s resisting her charms and his natural inclinations in order to save his friend (played by Donlevy) from himself. Or maybe he’s a mercenary who’s only in for himself and making cold-hearted, self-serving choices at every turn.
Regardless, this is an excellent turn by Ladd and an entrancing performance by Lake. Even as the protagonist and nominal hero, Ladd has no problems coming across not as a rowdy good guy, but as a fierce man who will go the distance. He’s a man less concerned with virtue than with honor. The ending rings a little false in consequence, but it’s golden-age Hollywood. What can you do?
If you like this movie, then consider it worth your time to seek out the other three Ladd/Lake films from the same decade. Odds are you’ll like them too.