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  Glass Key, The The Craft Of Raft
Year: 1935
Director: Frank Tuttle
Stars: George Raft, Edward Arnold, Claire Dodd, Rosalind Keith, Charles Richman, Robert Gleckler, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Ray Milland, Tammany Young, Harry Tyler, Charles C. Wilson, Emma Dunn, Matt McHugh, Pat Moriarty, Mack Gray, Ann Sheridan
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: There's a commotion in the street when a car careens out of control, almost mounts the pavement narrowly missing a young girl and her mother, then smashes into a car going in the opposite direction, killing the driver. The man behind the wheel is drunk, but when a friend recognises him he tells him politician Paul Madvig (Edward Arnold) will rescue him, but it turns out Madvig is set on leaving the shady life behind and putting all his support behind Senator Henry (Charles Richman) who is strictly on the level. But Madvig's past may be difficult to leave behind, which is why he needs the presence of right-hand man Ed Beaumont (George Raft) by his side as a fixer...

There were two versions of The Glass Key, a Dashiell Hammett novel, released within a decade, and this was the first. The second starred the none-more-nineteen-forties couple of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake and emphasised their relationship for boffo box office, but this one was more interested in the tough guy leanings of its leading man, Raft, and downplayed the romance in favour of dialogue that was so hardboiled it was rock solid. Raft, of course, had an edge in attracting the public to his movies: in the era where gangsters were the latest big thing to bring in the crowds, both at the movies and in the newspapers, the rumour was that he was actually a hood as well.

Whether he was or not (there's no stories about him having anyone killed, for example), this criminal allure guaranteed audiences were interested in seeing him portray dodgy characters who for some reason were often also the heroes, and Beaumont here was the epitome of those. Nowadays, if you have heard of Raft it was either because you're aware he had underworld connections, or more problematically for his career thanks to his way of giving Humphrey Bogart a few major breaks in his profile, turning down blockbusters like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca and thus giving Bogie the chance to shine in some of the greatest films of the forties, while Raft's screen career dwindled.

Not to say Raft fell into obscurity in his lifetime, there were plenty who knew who he was even if they didn't call themselves fans, and he did get a chance to riff on his gangster persona when Billy Wilder cast him in the gang boss role for Some Like It Hot some time after Raft's heyday. But he never had much range, and the novelty brand was likely the motive for his casting (either that or he used some muscle to get his roles, but studios seemed content to employ him for his star power), so he was never going to be drinking cocktails with his elbow resting on the mantlepiece in a drawing room comedy (though funnily enough he was an excellent dancer - you just cannot imagine him as a Fred Astaire type). Hammett's crime thrillers were all the rage in this era, and as a tough guy who is not above taking a few knocks, Raft was very decent casting.

The plot here saw Arnold (one of those rotund character actors of sizeable and refined presence who peppered the period's Hollywood productions) get into a spot of bother when his daughter's boyfriend, who he did not approve of, is found apparently murdered in the street. With an election coming up it's imperative that Madvig not be linked to anything as scandalous, so Beaumont heads off on the trail of the killer which involves a dive into the seedy underbelly of the city, getting badly beaten (and attacked by a huge dog!) in the process. Some interesting performers showed up in support: Ray Milland was the murder victim, just before he acquired top billed status for himself in his own projects, posh Claire Dodd was one of the two main females, and Ann Sheridan popped up in one scene as a nurse, threatening to break Ed's jaw if he gives her any trouble (!). Yes, everyone was hard as nails in The Glass Key, and their lines matched that, clich├ęs and all (a reporter really does say, "That story will bust this town wide open!"). Pacey, rough round the edges, typical of the day but a cut above most B-movies.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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