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Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Region Two Excels Again

The Glass Key (1942) Arrives On Blu-Ray

A star who rose faster than his billing, Alan Ladd is here in a second featured part, The Glass Key inarguably his show even as Brian Donlevy and Veronica Lake took precedence on marquees (or did they? I'd wager most theatres put Ladd first). He had been around awhile, but Ladd's rise sure seemed overnight. Upper-placed Donlevy, and Robert Preston from This Gun For Hire, were transparent beside him, Preston avenging the slight in much later interviews where he spoke of Laddie propped up, or lead ladies stood in holes, to accommodate his slight stature. It sure had sound of Preston still smarting over the long-ago show Ladd stole from him. Being it's such an issue, and a first point raised whenever his name comes up, I'd note Ladd's actual height at just over 5'6", though some allege 5'5", and army records (he served) say 5'7". As-big male stars hovered around this (James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson). Audie Murphy was evidently shorter than Ladd, and I'd doubt anyone (who wanted to live) challenged Audie about it.

Audiences rooted more anyhow for smaller guys who could take punishment plus deal it out. Ladd does both in The Glass Key, ritually beaten by William Bendix in probably best-recalled aspect of the film, and scoring quick defeat of six-foot Richard Denning by kicking him in the shins. Ladd could fight dirty and make same OK when the opponent was way bigger. To do so on even terms couldn't be believed. Cagney laid same sort of sucker punch on Dennis Morgan in Captains Of The Clouds, adding a line (ad-libbed?) that here's a guy too big to mess with, so better polish him off fast, if not sportsmanlike. Ladd got round hulkier menace with speed, a natural athleticism making his fights at times look like martial arts. Saddest thing about 50's decline was loss of that quick response and cat-like grace. Still, they liked Ladd in action even past the end. I found numerous NC drive-in ads right through the 60's, well after his death, that offered Guns Of The Timberland, Drum Beat, The Deep Six, Hell On Frisco Bay, others as second features if not at top of outdoor bills.

Donlevy's signature had been, would remain, McGinty, that being comedy, but potent enough so that the actor, close as he'd get in the early 40's to being a character star, played his Glass Key politico at boisterous pitch to ease Ladd's theft of our interest. The film's setting is very indefinite, no major city indicated or even nearby. Ladd's "Ed Beaumont" threatens to leave for New York, but we never know how far his trip would be. Donlevy's nakedly corrupt rule of municipal life might score higher on cynicism's meter were it played more credibly, but all of what happens here is so outlandish as to invite the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup mode for a capper. We almost forget The Glass Key will be a murder mystery until Richard Denning's corpse turns up. Despite having seen the thing at least three times, I always forget who the killer turns out to be. Dashiell Hammett wrote the source novel, which Paramount owned from the 30's and had made into a movie once before (with George Raft in 1935).

"Little Miss Dynamite" Veronica Lake, so billed by advertising, is here to partner Ladd, encore teaming understood as a sure thing even before This Gun For Hire was released. Lake was tiny (4'11") when stood beside any leading man, thus ideal to Ladd. Could she have sustained even without anchors of mental and emotional distress? The hair seemed to have been crucial to continued stardom. Pulling it back, or put up in braids took a toll on her fascination. Still, there's magic between Lake and Ladd, as if each understood vulnerability in the other. If not for war's intervention, I could see Paramount shuffling a quick half dozen with them and perhaps killing off the brand for overexposure, a Para-tendency gone back to Arbuckle, Clara Bow, whoever was good for fast profit and faster discard. The break while in uniform may have been salvation for Ladd, as look how badly Lake was used in films without him. The Glass Key is on current radar thanks to a Region Two Blu-Ray just out, a beauty and rebirth for this already pleasing show.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

THE GLASS KEY is my favorite Ladd movie.

Mr. Donlevy has no room to talk about Ladd's height. Brian was no Lock Martin either.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Mikeymort said...

Just watched Ladd in O.S.S. last week. Great spy yarn. Looked up information on the film on IMDB and found it was written by Richard Maibaum who went on to write many James Bond films.

1:20 PM  
Blogger opticalguy said...

This film is very shocking in its sadism. William Bendix (who I had always seen playing lovable characters … until THIS film) is totally convincing as a psychopath and his scenes with Ladd have a VERY uncomfortable, queasy edge to them. It is also interesting that Bendix's beatings out Ladd's character in the hospital for some time. Veronica Lake is NOT my usual type but she really sizzled in this film and in I MARRIED A WITCH. Definitely a film you re-watch whenever it's on.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I usually don't get too hung up on the disparity between Hollywoody movie treatments and original source material but this one is a sore point with me. THE GLASS KEY is such a great novel and the Ladd picture is such a just-okay movie... big disappointment! Should have been a noir gem with a knock-out irony soaked climax. The Coen Brother's MILLER'S CROSSING, a 1990 re-think of some of the same plot material comes off better. But still. By this late date, you would have thought some film maker might take a stab at doing a straight forward adaptation of this American classic.

Having said this, I've never been able to track down the Raft version, so maybe I'd be pleasantly surprised.

9:57 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

My uncle Dave once saw Val Guest at a screening of 'The Quatermas Xperiment', where Guest said Brian Donlevy referred to his toupee as "his doily".

10:03 AM  
Blogger b piper said...

Love this movie. Ladd and Lake are good, EVERYONE is good, but Donlevy and Bendix make the show for me. Bendix is the most sadistic (in a Kraft-Ebbing sense) thug I've seen on-screen and when it looks like he's going to start in again on helpless Laddie, only to have Donlevy step in and level Bendix and his pal with a single punch each, there's no question who walks away with the tough guy honors. Nigel Kneale said one reason he hated Donlevy's Quatermass was because "Donlevy looked like he could stop a Martian invasion with his own two fists". Well, that's what I love about the big lug.

12:26 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

I have to agree with Dave K that the movie pales if you're familiar with the novel, and it's one I've read many times. (I usually take the location as Baltimore, being Hammett's home town and a short train ride from NY.) Odd that the Ladd/Bendix relationship is probably the element that was least changed in the move to the screen.

Looks like the art department really stretched out Lake for that poster.

1:50 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

I've been listening to Donlevy's radio series from the early '50s, "Dangerous Assignment," where he played "colorful, two-fisted government agent" Steve Mitchell ("Yeah, danger is my assignment - I get sent to a lot of places I can't even pronounce, but they all spell the same...trouble!"), and it's a lot of fun, with its brisk pace, lively theme music, and use of such performers as Paul Frees (among others facile in dialects). I haven't seen the TV version, so I don't know if it's as much fun as its radio counterpart. (When Australia's Grace Gibson got her hands on "Dangerous Assignment," replacing Donlevy with Lloyd Burrell, it became quite dull, and creaky library music didn't help.)

Donlevy may be rightly remembered for "McGinty," but he is also known for his villainous turn as Sgt. Markoff in "Beau Geste."

11:50 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Migma, you make me want to hunt down "Dangerous Assignment," and listen to a few episodes. It's at one or more online radio archives, I'm sure.

12:04 PM  
Blogger b piper said...

The TV version of DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT isn't bad, reminding me of those British shows (THE SAINT) that took place all over back lot Europe.

12:26 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

Bing Crosby referred to his own toupee as "my brain doiley."

12:37 PM  
Blogger fairmn said...

Took my then-16-year old daughter to see this several years ago at the Portland (Ore.) Art Museum, and she really liked Alan Ladd, mainly for his cool demeanor and little-man approach to fighting, shin-kicking and all. For a year or more afterwards, she pinned on her bedroom wall a picture of Ladd printed from the computer. The audience trended elderly, but laughed more than anticipated at innuendo and primarily at un-PC dated cultural references.
As far as the ‘what-if’ sustainability of V Lake’s film career, it’s a go-to contemplative preoccupation. Even in a better world, odds are long it would stretch far beyond age 30, not much longer than if she were a later-day small market TV personality. When I watch other ‘40’s films, it’s hard not to see other actresses as her competition, which was fierce. She could take Joan Caulfield, but certainly not Joan Fontaine (in a whole ‘nother division), Jean Peters, Peggy Cummings and a host of others. At a certain age the long hair would go, leading to a bob and character roles such as best friend or eccentric youngish aunt. Perhaps that Baltimore afternoon-movie TV gig would have been a great soft landing after all.
If I had a time machine, the shakedown cruise would not be for the purpose of averting world wars or witnessing biblical events but rather to enlist modern medicine to provide V Lake with the best possible treatment and care… to see if the machine worked, of course. Arriving unannounced with sundry experts and nutritional supplements with the words, “We’re from the future, and we’re here to help!” might drive anyone over the bend, but I’d also bring back from The Future good scripts, like Amelie, possibly Breathless, maybe even that Jennifer Lopez vehicle, Maid in Manhattan. Modern naturalistic acting would have benefitted her.
In her best roles, Lake was never a femme fatale, but rather a helper—Joel McCrae’s pal in Sullivan’s Travels, a sympathetic listener for Ladd in the This Gun For Hire cat scene, and fortuitous woman with a car emerging from out of the rain in Blue Dahlia. Additional support and a better roll of the dice could have led to, among other and more humane developments, some memorable pictures.

3:22 AM  

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