The next two films in the Noir Nights series, The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia, are unusual for film noir. The plots are linear – more like classic murder mysteries than the tangled narratives typically found in this genre. There aren’t any characters with a dark past that they don’t want to talk about and you’re certain will catch up with them.
These films also lack femme fatales. Yes, there’s some shady ladies with bad motives, but they don’t have any real power over anyone or anything. The hero isn’t trapped by them. The female lead in both films is Veronica Lake, who acts acts as Alan Ladd’s guardian angel – stirring him to do right with a side long glance and a pouting of her lips.
William Bendix gives memorable performances in each film. In The Glass Key he’s a sadistic thug who finds pleasure in torturing Alan Ladd for his boss. In The Blue Dahlia, he’s a World War II vet with a serious head injury and shell shock. He’s irrationally taunted by loud music and a woman pulling at a blue flower.
The Glass Key features an actor not typically connected to dark films – Hugh Beaumont, who became famous playing Ward Cleaver on the tv show Leave It to Beaver. In this film, he tries to counsel and help Bendix’s troubled character, but doesn’t seem to understand the severity of his war buddy’s injuries.
Despite a lack of certain noir elements, the use of shadows and shadowy characters places these films in the noir realm. In addition, it always seems to be raining. And both films are associated with titans of noir. The Glass Key is based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel (of the same name) about political corruption. This novel influenced the Coen Brother’s 1990 film, Miller’s Crossing, another slick, sexy film depicting the fine line between political corruption and organized crime. Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for The Blue Dahlia which is partly a depiction of the very real difficulties of veterans returning from war and partly a journey into the surreal world of noir.