Film Review: The Glass Key (1942)

Release Date: September 8th, 1942 (Toronto premiere)
Directed by: Stuart Heisler
Written by: Jonathan Latimer
Based on: The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett
Music by: Victor Young
Cast: Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, William Bendix

Paramount Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, Rusty, Little Rubber Ball is back. I told you he liked the way we bounced him around.” – Jeff

The Glass Key was film-noir before film-noir was a thing. A lot of people consider 1944 to be the year where noir took over but there were a few films that paved the way and this was one of them. Plus, it was based off of a Dashiell Hammett novel ala The Maltese Falcon.

This also pairs Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, who worked together in seven movies, four of which were noir pictures.

For the most part, this helped set the stylistic trends of cinema for two decades. It isn’t the best noir, far from it, honestly, but it boasts pretty good cinematography, shot framing and shot motion that would become the norm.

Also, from a plot standpoint, it showcases political corruption, gangsters and a look at American life at the end of World War II. These are all tropes that would be a big part of movies well into the ’50s.

But even with all that, it doesn’t resonate with me as greatly as some of the better noirs do. I can’t deny that this was doing some solid things from a filmmaking perspective before the rest of Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon but I found the film a bit dull.

The acting was good, the film looks nice and the story had some decent curveballs thrown in but it lacked the panache and energy that would come later, as the noir style really took hold.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other noir films featuring both Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.

Film Review: The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Release Date: April 16th, 1946 (Baltimore premiere)
Directed by: George Marshall
Written by: Raymond Chandler
Music by: Victor Young (uncredited)
Cast: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling

Paramount Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Just don’t get too complicated, Eddie. When a man gets too complicated, he’s unhappy. And when he’s unhappy, his luck runs out.” – Leo

While not the first film to pair up Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, this is probably the most famous one and the one that is considered the best. Although, I’d say that I like This Gun For Hire quite a bit more. I still haven’t seen their earliest film, The Glass Key, but I plan to watch it within the week.

The plot of the film revolves around an ex-serviceman, Johnny, who is wanted for the murder of his wife, who he had a severe falling out with once returning home from World War II. He finds out that she killed their son while driving drunk and that she has been having an affair with the owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub. During their argument, Johnny pulls a gun on his wife but doesn’t use it. However, a witness saw this so when she is killed after Johnny leaves, he is the prime suspect.

In typical noir fashion, the rest of the film follows Johnny trying to clear his name while also trying to discover who the killer is.

The film is written by Raymond Chandler, who is probably known more for the film adaptations of his crime novels than his actual screenwriting but the story here is on par with his others and the dialogue is pretty well written. But it’s the talents of Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, as well as the smaller parts of Doris Dowling and Howard Da Silva that gave the script real life. But I also can’t discount George Marshall’s direction.

The cinematography is decent but nothing extraordinary. Paramount made good looking noir pictures but they lack the visual panache of the noirs put out by RKO. But no one knew what film-noir was when they were making these films and the cinematography feels more like the crew sticking to Paramount’s tightly controlled standard than actually trying to give this some artistic flourish.

The Blue Dahlia is a beloved film for most noir lovers. I definitely enjoyed it but I can’t really put it in the upper echelon of the style’s best pictures.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures pairing Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.

Film Review: This Gun for Hire (1942)

Release Date: April 24th, 1942 (Denver premiere)
Directed by: Frank Tuttle
Written by: Albert Maltz, W.R. Burnett
Based on: A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, Alan Ladd

Paramount Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“You are trying to make me go soft. Well, you can save it. I don’t go soft for anybody.” – Philip Raven

I feel like this picture doesn’t get the respect it deserves for establishing the noir genre and style. A lot of people don’t want to consider anything that came out before Double Indemnity as true film-noir but that’s bullshit. In fact, I consider Fritz Lang’s M from 1931 to be a part of the genre, even if it predates the era by a decade and was a movie made in Germany.

This Gun for Hire predates Double Indemnity by two years but it also came out a year after The Maltese Falcon and if you don’t consider that classic noir, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Plus, this movie stars Veronica Lake in her prime; that alone screams noir.

I really like the story in this too, as it puts Lake’s character between a rock and a hard place. She’s really just an innocent woman wrapped up with trying to reason with a killer that doesn’t have her in his sights but is hunting down the man who double-crossed him.

In part, the film is a character study of Alan Ladd’s Philip Raven, who confides in Lake’s Ellen about his past and how he fell into a very shady and violent life. Ellen wants to save Raven from himself but this is film-noir and it’s very rare that the bad guy ever gets off scott free.

There are typical noir twists and they make this a pretty layered and exciting film from start to finish. Things escalate quite a bit as the picture rolls on and it’s not entirely clear as to whether or not Ellen could also have a bad fate just for trying to save Raven from himself.

I think that the fact that this has a great plot is due to it being an adaptation of a Graham Greene story. Every film based off of his work that I’ve seen has always given me a pleasurable experience.

Additionally, this encompasses the noir vibe in its visual style. The credit for that goes to cinematographer John F. Seitz, a guy who won seven Academy Awards before he hung it up.

Sure, director Frank Tuttle also deserves credit, as he brought all the pieces together and really got superb performances out of Veronica Lake, Robert Preston and Alan Ladd. Not to say that these three aren’t always more than capable.

This Gun for Hire isn’t a film-noir that gets talked about as much as some of the more famous pictures but some of those better movies probably wouldn’t have existed in their same form if it wasn’t for this trendsetting motion picture that was just a few years ahead of its time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Blue Dahlia, The Glass Key, Murder, My Sweet, Criss Cross and Phantom Lady.