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The Glass Key (1942)

Passed | | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 23 October 1942 (USA)
A crooked politician finds himself being accused of murder by a gangster from whom he refused help during a re-election campaign.



(screen play), (based on the novel by)

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Complete credited cast:
Donald MacBride ...
Ralph Henry
Eddie Marr ...
Arthur Loft ...
Clyde Matthews
George Meader ...
Claude Tuttle
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
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 »


Nick Varna: You talk too much with your mouth, Jeff.
See more »


Edited into Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) 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

Satisfying film noir despite muddled motivations...
18 December 2002 | by (U.S.A.) – See all my reviews

What holds interest in THE GLASS KEY is not the convoluted plot full of red herrings (until the murderer is unmasked), but the performances of the three leads--Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd. Ladd and Lake have some good chemistry going here, especially in the scene where they first meet and find themselves immediately attracted--a flirting encounter that director Stuart Heisler uses to catch every glimmer of their star appeal as a team.

Everyone takes some hard physical stunts. Lake's sock to the jaw when she encounters Brian Donlevy (as a crooked politician) turned out to be a real one. (She told him she didn't know how to pull punches). Dane Clark (in an unbilled early role) gets shoved through a plate glass window by Donlevy and into a pool. And Alan Ladd takes a brutal beating from William Bendix that is painful to even watch, it's brutally realistic. Ladd's "beating" make-up deserved an Oscar. His escape out of a broken window has him falling off an awning and crashing through the ceiling where a family is having dinner.

Richard Denning has a brief role as Bonita Granville's unfortunate brother who gets killed off early in the proceedings. No use telling the plot outline--just be ready to watch the film for its authentic '40s film noir style--crisp B&W photography full of menacing shadows and some unpredictable twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end. Ladd's icy calm is a little too guarded but watch him in the scene where Bendix takes him upstairs for a drink. Their contrasting acting styles are fun to watch--and Ladd manages to steal the scene with his underplayed cat-and-mouse expression as he casually toys with a glass or a bottle.

For fans of Ladd and Lake, a good one--but personally I liked the story of THE BLUE DAHLIA better with a plot easier to follow.

33 of 39 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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