Based on a celebrated novel by Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key focuses on the relationship between a crooked businessman and his loyal associate, whose plans for the upcoming election are blown apart by a murder. The story first appeared in “Black Mask” magazine in 1930. Paramount bought the movie rights for $25,000 before the hardcover edition was even published in 1931. Though Gary Cooper was announced as the leading actor, the film was not made until 1935, possibly due to a fear of failure (the crime cycle of the early 1930s was quickly falling out of fashion). However, Tuttle’s take was very different, shaping the characters in a more psychologically nuanced way. Ed Beaumont (played by George Raft in one of the better roles of his career) is a rye-drinking, sharp-dressed gambler who protects businessman Paul Madvig (Edward Arnold) against rival gangs and is smart enough to tell him what to wear too. Madvig is backing a local senator in his electoral campaign, and also plans to marry his daughter; meanwhile Madvig’s own daughter, Opal, is in a relationship with the senator’s troubled son. Ed stays cool-headed, balancing these conflicting interests, which are increasingly open to exploitation by a rival gang. When the senator’s son (Ray Milland) is killed, the rival gang mobilise their newspapers to accuse Madvig of the crime. The film stays low-key, although there are two or three truly outstanding scenes with a good dose of action, directed in a style equivalent to Hammett’s strippeddown, descriptive approach – including when a brutally beaten Ed escapes from the place where he is being held captive. It proposes that ‘nobody’s tough enough’ (a theme to which Tuttle returns in some other films) but also that ‘nobody’s innocent enough’. Essentially this is a film about loyalty, but although the director was genuinely interested in the subject he would nevertheless fail his own test: Tuttle named fellow communists in front of HUAC – an action with which he evidently never came to terms. With the 2020 US election only months away, and with the controversy of Russian interference still hanging in the air, this crisp and fast-paced crime drama about political corruption and family ties not only reflects contemporary concerns but also prefigures at least one other film by Tuttle, Hell on Frisco Bay.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: from the eponimous novel (1931) by Dashiell Hammett. Scen.: Kathryn Scola, Kubec Glasmon. F.: Henry
Sharp. M.: Hugh Bennett. Scgf.: Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick. Int.: George Raft (Ed Beaumont), Edward Arnold (Paul Madvig), Claire Dodd (Janet Henry), Rosalind Keith (Opal Madvig), Charles Richman (senatore John Henry), Robert Gleckler (Shad O’Rory), Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams (Jeff), Tammany Young (Clarkie), Ray Milland (Taylor Henry), Ann Sheridan (infermiera). Prod.: E. Lloyd Sheldon per Paramount Pictures. 35mm
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