Not quite so resonant an early example of noir as The Maltese Falcon, partly because the novel's ending has been clumsily softened, but still a remarkably successful Hammett adaptation. Best sequence by far is the marathon beating-up sustained by Ladd in a bout of grating sado-masochism as Bendix ('He's a tough baby, he likes this') coyly begs his 'little rubber ball' to bounce back for more. Shot and played with deceptive casualness, the sequence is central to the film, flaunting an erotic undertow that sows continuing doubts throughout. Playing with his usual deadpan as he weaves warily through a maze of political machinations and underworld snares in the service of his boss, Ladd remains equally frozen whether expressing his love for Lake or his loyalty to Donlevy. The result is a teasing sexual ambiguity, considerably enhanced (at least until the copout ending) by the fact that Hammett's hero - here callous enough to admit a willingness to let Lake hang if necessary in furtherance of his aims - has been toughened up by being reduced to a noir cipher for the film.
The Glass Key
Cast and crew