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The Glass Key (1942)

Passed  |   |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir  |  23 October 1942 (USA)
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During the campaign for reelection, the crooked politician Paul Madvig decides to clean up his past, refusing the support of the gangster Nick Varna and associating to the respectable ... See full summary »



(screen play), (based on the novel by)
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Ed Beaumont is the personal friend, advisor and bodyguard to Paul Madvig, the political boss of a large city. When a mysterious murder is committed---the son of a Madvig political opponent-... See full summary »

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Complete credited cast:
Richard Denning ...
Donald MacBride ...
Margaret Hayes ...
Moroni Olsen ...
Ralph Henry
Eddie Marr ...
Arthur Loft ...
Clyde Matthews
George Meader ...
Claude Tuttle
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Tom Dugan ...
Jeep (scenes deleted)


During the campaign for reelection, the crooked politician Paul Madvig decides to clean up his past, refusing the support of the gangster Nick Varna and associating to the respectable reformist politician Ralph Henry. When Ralph's son, Taylor Henry, a gambler and the lover of Paul's sister Opal, is murdered, Paul's right arm, Ed Beaumont, finds his body on the street. Nick uses the financial situation of The Observer to force the publisher Clyde Matthews to use the newspaper to raise the suspicion that Paul Madvig might have killed Taylor. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The Tougher They Are - The Harder They Fall


Passed | See all certifications »




Release Date:

23 October 1942 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Der gläserne Schlüssel  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The title of this book and movie is most obscure; thankfully its meaning is described by Richard Layman in his book, Shadow Man: The life of Dashiell Hammett. A glass key symbolizes an act or experience which cannot be reversed or forgotten. It is a key made of glass which allows one entry to a room or a building but which shatters after one use. Skeleton keys were used for many years before and after this story to lock doors from both sides; hence, a skeleton key made of glass which breaks in a lock will prohibit the locking of a door and will prohibit one from leaving the room. Hence, once in the chamber one is subject to see one's choice through. See more »


In Farr's office, when Ed is slowly tucking the anonymous letter in his inside pocket, Farr tells him he expects a visit from Nick. The camera is on Ed who abruptly takes his hand out of his inside pocket and turns to Farr, but then the camera cuts to show both him and Farr and he's still tucking the letter in his inside pocket. See more »


Paul Madvig: I'm going to society. He's practically given me the key to his house.
Ed Beaumont: Yeah, a glass key. Be sure it doesn't break in your hand.
See more »


Referenced in Queen of the Blues (1979) See more »


I Remember You
from The Fleet's In (1942)
Music by Victor Schertzinger
Played as background music when Opal meets Taylor
See more »

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User Reviews

Reaching For Some Class
23 November 2006 | by (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

In watching this and the first film version of The Glass Key you have to wonder why Brian Donlevy is making an alliance with the 'reform' forces led by Senator Moroni Olsen. The way I see it, Donlevy is a mug and he knows it, but he figures he'll step up in society if allies himself with the right people. It's the only explanation that makes sense for Donlevy to cut loose from gambling czar Joseph Calleia.

Everybody in Donlevy's family is getting involved with Olsen. Donlevy's taken a shine to daughter Veronica Lake who can't stand him, but will put up with it for her father's sake. Donlevy's sister Bonita Granville is involved with Olsen's playboy son Richard Denning, not something that Donlevy approves of. When Denning turns up dead all kinds of questions are raised.

Donlevy has someone on his payroll who takes care of these problems, Alan Ladd and Ladd's not particularly squeamish about the legalities of things. He starts investigating and at the same time tries to protect his boss's reputation. Not so easy as he finds out.

This was the second teaming Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd and they clicked as well as they did in This Gun For Hire. It was also the first time that Alan Ladd and William Bendix worked together on a film. Bendix became one of Ladd's best friends on the Paramount lot and his widow Tess Bendix was a prime source for Beverly Linet's revealing biography of Alan Ladd. Bendix portrays a truly malevolent thug who works for Calleia and he's pretty frightening. One of the best examples of a sadist ever done on the screen.

My personal favorite in this film besides Bendix is Joseph Calleia the racketeer kingpin of the city. He's one slick article as he usually is in most of his films and his fate is determined by something he really could not have foreseen.

The story by Dashiell Hammett on which this is based really does show how close politics and the criminal element mix, even the so-called 'reform' element. Even law enforcement is afraid to move here as typified by the very political district attorney Donald MacBride. He's not one to move against the local power structure unless he has to.

This version of The Glass Key is not too different from the 1935 version that starred George Raft and Edward Arnold. This one is seen more often and shows that corruption can be quite systemic in some of our local governments. Pity the poor voters.

28 of 28 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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