Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Overlooked Films: THE GLASS KEY (1935) See it here!

All hail YouTube! I've been wanting to see this first screen version of The Glass Key for thirty-some years and had just about given up on it. Then a couple days ago, while searching for I-don't-remember-what, I stumbled across it on YouTube.

In honor of the occasion, I hauled out the novel and read it for the fifth or sixth time before taking a squint at the film. And guess what? It's a pretty ding dang good movie. Comparisons between this and the better known 1942 version with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake are inevitable, but I believe I'll save them til next week, after another viewing of that film.

Nothing short of a ten hour mini-series could hope to present all the scenes, characters and storylines of the novel, but director Frank Tuttle did a fine job of boiling the mystery plot down into a feature film. The screenplay, attributed to two folks I've never heard of, retains many lines of Hammett dialogue, and there are several scenes lifted almost word for word from the book. Even the stuff Hammett didn't write sounds like he did. And there's a bit Hammett probably wished was his, when Beaumont clips a girl on the jaw, knocking her out to prevent her blabbing nonsense to the press.

Not surprisingly, because The Glass Key is an almost humorless book, the film added a little comic relief - in the form of a yegg attempting to perform card tricks. The big surprise is what the movie did not add, that being a full-blown romance between the two leads, George Raft and Claire Dodd.

Raft plays Ed (renamed from the novel's Ned) Beaumont, right-hand man and best friend of political boss Paul Madvig, portrayed by Edward Arnold. Madvig is hopelessly in love with Janet Henry (Claire Dodd), the daughter of a senator he's trying to get re-elected. The surface story is a murder mystery, revolving around the death of the senator's son (and Janet's brother), who just happened to be fooling around with Madvig's daughter. That's the part this movie focuses on, and does it well.

Beneath the surface, though, is the love triangle involving Madvig, Janet and Beaumont. That triangle is the driving force behind the story, and brings the novel to a bleak, unhappy conclusion. For Paramount, that simply wouldn't do. So for purposes of this film, they simply eliminated the growing relationship between Beaumont and Janet. Despite Raft and Dodd cozying up on the movie posters, the two characters hardly even meet. Once the crime is solved, instead of facing a shattered friendship and walking away with the leading lady, Beaumont goes on a date with Madvig's sister.

See for yourself. Give this one a look, then come back on Friday for my ramblings about the novel. And next Tuesday we'll bring out the big guns with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.


Rick Robinson said...

I must say Claire Dodd didn't appeal to me as a siren, always seemed kind of arrogant. I MUCH prefer Lake. Looking forward to the book review and next week's film review.

Stephen Mertz said...

I much prefer this film to the Alan Ladd version. This one has an authenticity about it (being filmed closer to publication of the source novel helped) that the slick later version lacks. I just never bought Ladd as Ned. Just not much of an actor, IMHO, though he and Vernoica do work well in The Blue Dahlia. But this '35 version really "gets" the novel in a way the later version does not.

Evan Lewis said...

I agree, Steve. Raft is much better than Ladd, though Lake is miles better than Dodd. It all feels right, until you reach the end and realize that the all-important triangle was missing. Hammett probably thought they'd trivialized his story.

Oscar Case said...

Always liked Raft and Milland in most of their movies.

Rick said...

Thanks. I enjoyed that. I remember when i was in England in '66 that George Raft was there opening a Casino in London. Unfortunately the British government had him deported due to his associate with Mafia figures. That's my major memory of George Raft.