Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett in print and on television

Last week, Evan Lewis posted a link to a 1949 TV broadcast of Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key.

(Check it out here.)

As I commented on his site, if the 1950s were considered the Golden Age of television, then the 1940s were the Stone Age of TV.

That said, the play is surprisingly good.

Sure, the sets are cardboard and some of the acting is more suited to the stage than the screen, but overall, it was a very smart production.

The Hammett novel, which I posted about (here), is a complicated yarn of murder and political corruption.

Nick Beaumont is an advisor and right-hand man to Paul Madvig, a political power broker. In the book, Hammett showed the strong ties between the men who were long-time friends.

A lot of that was lost in the 1942 movie starring Alan Ladd as Nick and Brian Donlevy as Paul because the story needed to be trimmed down to fit a movie’s normal running time. (There is also a 1935 version starring George Raft and Edward Arnold, but I have not seen it.)

Even more of the flavor of the book was cut to fit the story into a one-hour television play. But Worthington Miner, a big producer in early television, did a good job adapting it. Enough of the plot is retained and it moves along nicely.

Donald Briggs was a pretty good Nick. He was believable as a sharp guy, but not as a tough guy, which Nick was in the book. In that respect, he reminded me of Robert Montgomery in “Ride the Pink Horse.”

The production was broadcast live but preserved on film by a crude method of pointing a movie camera at a monitor. Compared to today’s productions, the quality of a Kinescope is horrible. But, it is better than not having it.

So, if you are at home (and I hope you are staying safe) and looking for something to watch. Give this one a try.


  1. The Glass Key is also the inspiration for - there are too many changes to call it an adaptation - the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing

  2. I think I'd be more tempted by the books than the show. I'll have to see what I have from Hammett. I have to admit I don't typically read many books from this far back.