Wednesday, October 27, 2021

"The Glass Key" by Dashiell Hammett

The first time I read this book, fifteenish years ago, I had no real idea who Alan Ladd was.  I definitely had not seen the 1942 version of The Glass Key that starred him opposite Veronica Lake and Brian Donlevy.  Not even once.  Cut to 2021, when I've seen it probably five or six times, and that makes this reading experience totally different from that first one.

One of the best parts of this reread was how it cleared up a few things about Ladd's performance in the movie version for me!  I've always been a little bugged by certain expressions Ladd uses as Ned Beaumont because they don't seem natural to him.  In particular, he does these weird smiles where his lips are pulled tight against his teeth so he looks more like he's grimacing that smiling.  I had always chalked this up to Ladd being nervous because this was his first big hero role after he gained fame playing the sympathetic villain in This Gun for Hire (1942).  But now, I don't think that was it at all!

I think Alan Ladd read this book when he got cast in the movie version.  Because Hammett is very explicit about exactly what sort of smile Beaumont is doing at any given moment, whether it's a friendly smile, a genuine and boyish smile, or a controlled and fake smile... with his lips pulled tightly against his teeth.  I think Ladd was trying to draw on the source material and, if you have read the book, you'll realize that's what he's doing.  But, if you haven't, it just looks like he is really uncomfortable in a lot of scenes.  Which, actually, his character does tend to be, so it does kinda work.  But it works better now that I've read the book and then rewatched the movie right after.

ANYWAY, this book focuses on Ned Beaumont (renamed Ed for the movie because whyyyy?), right-hand-man of a political fixer who falls in love with a senator's daughter and decides to put all his political power behind this senator.  The senator's daughter can't stand him, but plays nice so he'll keep helping her dad.  And then her brother gets murdered.  Everyone assumes the fixer did it, but his power keeps him from getting arrested for it because he's in control of the District Attorney and so on.  Ned Beaumont tries to figure out who did kill the senator's son, if his boss didn't, and a lot of violence and excitement ensue.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence, including a pretty extreme beating, and contemplations of suicide.  Also some bad language, lots of alcohol use, smoking, etc.  I did mention this is hardboiled detective fiction, right?

This is the 30th book I've read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and the second book I read for the #AMonthOfMystery challenge on Instagram.

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