Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Glass Key


I’m going to express a heretical opinion here: I don’t think Dashiell Hammett was that great a writer. Sure, he was an innovator, taking his characters into sleazy situations that no one else was writing about, and no question he pretty much invented the “hard-boiled” school of crime fiction. And for that I thank him. But I just have never been able to like his prose style. I have tried multiple times to read his stuff, and I never get very far.

His stories can be damn good, though, which may be why some really good movies have been made from them, most notably The Maltese Falcon. This one is regarded as a noir classic, but I found it to be only moderately good. Alan Ladd is the fixer for the crooked and crude politician Brian Donlevy. They’re backing a “reform” candidate, thinking they will have him in their pocket after the election. But his worthless gambler son gets murdered, and Brian looks like the best candidate for his killing. Veronica Lake is the dead man’s sister. It isn’t too hard to figure out who the real killer is. Oddly, the best thing here is the performance of William Bendix, that perennial dumb palooka. He is convincing, and even a little sympathetic as the perfect fall guy.

I fell in love with Veronica Lake when I saw her in Sullivan’s Travels. And she broke my heart. By 1949 she was washed up, a victim of booze and mental illness. The poor thing “starred” in her final film, Blood Feast, which I think has a serious claim to being the worst film ever made, in 1970. Three years later she was dead. A sad life.