Here's the second leg of our salute to the three incarnations of The Glass Key. If you missed Tuesday's assessment and showing of the 1935 film version, that's HERE.
The first time I read this novel - sometime in the late '70s, I think - I wasn't sure what to make of it. It was nowhere near as much fun as Red Harvest or The Thin Man, and not as straightforward as The Maltese Falcon. I probably liked it even less than The Dain Curse, which I found disappointing even then.
But unlike The Dain Curse, The Glass Key is a book that gets better with each reading. Whether my appreciation grows due to increased familiarity or to a change in my own perspective is hard to say, but I suspect it's a little of both.
The four heroes of Hammett's novels can be seen to represent four phases of his own life - or four aspects of his personality. The Continental Op is the young Hammett, as he grows from a dispassionate observer to a jaded realist. Sam Spade is the world-weary Hammett, sleeping with his partner's wife and doing his duty more by rote than from conviction. In Ned Beaumont, the tarnished hero of The Glass Key, we see a darker side, a Hammett for whom familiarity breeds contempt, and who expects and accepts contempt from his familiars. This character cycle culminates, of course, in Nick Charles, a man living on his laurels and viewing the world through whisky-colored glasses.
Of the four, Ned Beaumont is the most complicated, the most reclusive and the most unpredictable. And maybe that's why the book just keeps getting better and better, because each time I read it I see deeper into his - or Hammett's - or my own - character. Beaumont, a gambler and chief assistant to a corrupt political boss, is an antihero, and only slightly more admirable than his adversaries.
On the surface, The Glass Key is a murder mystery, with appropriate clues, twists and suspects, and delivers a satisfying and unexpected solution. But the more important human story is about friendship, loyalty and love, and how those three factors are sometimes incompatible.
The title comes from a dream in which Janet Henry (the female lead) and Ned Beaumont come across a house in the woods. They're starving, and the house is full of food, but the floor is crawling with snakes. Finding a key, they plan to unlock the door, hide until the snakes leave, then return and lock the door. But the key is made of glass. It breaks in the lock, they're unable to close the door and the snakes get them. The dream is symbolic of their hunt for the truth. Once they find it, it slithers out and cannot be contained`.
It's a complex story, which has proven too complex for both the 1935 film version with George Raft, Edward Arnold and Claire Dodd, and 1942 version with Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and Brian Donlevy. Both films failed - in different ways - to tell the whole story, and the book would be a great candidate for a cable network ten-hour novel for television.
Thinly disguised as four novelettes, The Glass Key appeared as a four-part serial beginning in the March 1930 issue of Black Mask, and was published in hardcover in April 1931.
Come on back next Tuesday, when I pick nits with Mr. Ladd and Mrs. Lake.
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.
The jury is still out on whether Wyatt Earp ever carried a long-barreled Colt, but if he did it probably didn't look much like this. Still, while there were a lot of Wyatt Earp cap guns, this is the only one I know of that actually says BUNTLINE SPECIAL on it, which makes it pretty cool. This piece, dating from the late '50s, measures almost 11 inches long, and more than 6 inches of it is barrel.
Aside from the length and the engraving, this looks pretty much like any other Actoy (or Pony Boy) gun, right down to the lanyard ring. We'll see a couple more of them before I deplete my arsenal.