The Glass Key is an early example of film noir, gritty crime drama peppered with romantic liaisons, murder and plenty of hard boiled dialogue. It's a complex crime thriller with moments of genuine edge of your seat excitement. As Ladd and Lake hadn't yet proved themselves the firecracker team they would eventually become, veteran Brian Donlevy was top billed. He plays shady and obnoxious crime boss Paul Madvig, whose attraction to sleek Janet Henry (Lake), causes him to back her father, Ralph Henry, as the reform candidate for governor in their state. Janet tolerates the oafish Madvig to help her ambitious father. Ladd plays Ed Beaumont, Madvigs right hand, who oversees everything pertaining to his boss, including Madvig's younger sister Opal (Bonita Granville), who is secretly seeing the would be governors shiftless playboy son Taylor (Richard Denning). When the no good Taylor is found dead outside the house he shares with his father and sister, Madvig is the number one suspect, since he went to the home to discuss Taylor's involvement with his kid sister Opal (told you it was complex). The story segues with Madvigs enemy, thug Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia) trying to pin the murder on him while Varna's beefy and sinister henchman Jeff (William Bendix) gives Ed a beating the likes the silver screen had never seen to that time, when Ed tries to find evidence to clear his boss and comrade Madvig of the crime.
Hulk of a man Bendix had just made his film debut the same year as this film. He also won an Oscar nomination in one of his very first roles in Wake Island also released in 1942. He is more than memorable as the sadistically smiling heavy (literally!) knocking the soup out of Ladd in the grueling and realistic beating scene which ends with Ladd falling several stories from a window and crashing through a skylight onto the dinner table of horrified diners. Former child actress Bonita Granville (These Three, Nancy Drew) is always good but she's not given a chance here to do much more than cry over her murdered lover, but she does it looking lovely. The screenplay is riddled with great dialogue like Bendix fellow goon bragging on his cooking skills: "My first wife was a second cook in a third rate joint on Fourth street."
Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake would become iconic figures of the 1940's. Ladd as a stone faced tough talker, Lake as the gal with the peek-a-boo hairstyle that wreaked havoc in war munition factories when girls who copied the look, got their long locks caught in factory machinery. The Glass Key proved a success for Paramount and a launchpad for the two comely personalities who charged the film with their high voltage electricity.