Cast & Crew
Crime boss Paul Madvig, who has been running the city for ten years, decides to reform and joins the campaign to re-elect Senator John T. Henry, whose daughter, Janet, Paul hopes to marry. When bibulous gang member Walter Ivans kills a man in a car accident, Paul refuses to help clear him. Paul then threatens gangster Shad O'Rory, who runs a gambling house called the Four-Leaf Clover, that he is going to close down his club and clean up the town. Paul receives a "glass key" to the senator's house, which is a cautious invitation, but neither Janet nor her brother Taylor agree with their father's association with Paul. The senator then overhears Taylor, who is a compulsive gambler, tell Janet that he needs money. Later, O'Rory demands that Taylor repay his gambling debt, and Ed Beaumont, Paul's bodyguard, sees Taylor with Paul's daughter Opal. That night, Paul visits the senator to break up Taylor and Opal's relationship. While out walking at three o'clock in the morning, Ed finds Taylor's dead body a few blocks from the Henry home, as well as a cane cap he thinks is Paul's. When Ed tells Paul he found the body, Paul acts innocent, but Ed knows Paul was seen quarrelling with Taylor at the scene of the crime. O'Rory then calls the editor of The Observer , who is a friend of his, to implicate Paul, and headlines read: "Witness Involves Madvig in Murder." O'Rory then visits the senator, asking him to disassociate himself from Paul in exchange for backing from O'Rory and The Observer . Meanwhile, Janet is convinced that Paul killed Taylor, and Paul's grand jury trial is scheduled. Ed appeals to Paul to let the Four-Leaf Clover re-open to save himself, but he refuses. Determined to find the real murderer, Ed stages a fight in public with Paul in order to infiltrate O'Rory's gang. Convinced of Ed's disloyalty to Paul, O'Rory agrees to let Ed run the gambling house in exchange for information on Paul. When O'Rory shows Ed the affidavit from Henry Sloss, who witnessed the murder, Ed burns it and discards O'Rory's bribe money, for which he is beaten by a henchman named Jeff and taken prisoner. By lighting a mattress on fire, Ed escapes his room, then jumps out a window, and is placed in a hospital. When Paul visits, Ed tells him about Sloss, and Paul advises Sloss to skip town and is accused in the papers of kidnapping the witness. Janet, meanwhile, has turned Opal against her father, and O'Rory has asked Opal to give reporter Hinkle an indictment of her father. Ed poses as Hinkle, however, and at the Henry home, notices that the senator's cane has a new cap on it and takes it as evidence. When Opal threatens to tell everything to the press, Ed knocks her out and abducts her as Hinkle arrives. After the papers report that Sloss has been brutally murdered, Paul finally cracks, admitting to Ed that he killed Taylor by accident when, during their argument, Taylor fell in the gutter and hit his head. Paul claims he had been keeping quiet in order to win Janet. Ed then gets Jeff to admit he killed Sloss. When O'Rory overhears and intervenes, Jeff chokes him. District Attorney Farr then holds an inquisition regarding Sloss's murder, and the senator still supports Paul. During the hearing, Ed uses the cane butt he found at the scene of Taylor's murder as an ashtray to intimidate Paul into confessing. Janet, meanwhile, still maintains that Opal knows that her father killed Taylor. Ed testifies that Paul knows who the killer is, but is protecting him. It is then revealed that the senator killed his own son by accident after they struggled. Henry is out of the senate race, and Ed and Opal, whom Ed affectionately calls "Snip," go on a date.
Charles C. Wilson
George H. Reed
J. A. Goodrich
E. Lloyd Sheldon
I'm too big to take the boot from you.- Shad O'Rory
Maybe you're too big to take it lying down, but you'll take it. You are taking it!- Paul Madvig
I hear Shad's going to open the Four-Leaf Clover again tonight. Slam it down so hard it bounces! Sure. Fine. Goodbye.- Paul Madvig
Now you know where you stand.- Paul Madvig
According to a September 1932 Hollywood Reporter news item, Harry d'Abbadie D'Arrast was originally scheduled to direct this film, and B. P. Schulberg was set to produce it. According to files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the first draft of this film was read by the Hays Office on March 24, 1931. Colonel Jason S. Joy, the Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, noted in his resume on March 25, 1931 that following a discussion between the Hays Office and producers Lloyd Sheldon and Bartlett Cormack, "elements involving the municipal and state office holders were eliminated" from the film. The film was condemned by the Hays Office, but by late 1934, was again being discussed. An inter-office memo dated December 20, 1934 from PCA official John McHugh Stuart to Dr. James Wingate, also an official, states that the film could be cleaned up by eliminating the professional gambling connection from the "Madvig crowd," and that the filmmakers had gone a long way to change the picture from the condition that had earned Joy's condemnation three years previously. The PCA wanted the film to include "a political boss without definite criminal or graft angles." The PCA wrote to Paramount executive John Hammell on December 22, 1934 warning him against the scene that depicts the brutal beatings of Ed by Jeff. In addition, the PCA asked him to delete the word "massacrist," because of connotations of sexual perversion, and warned that it is "always dangerous to shout "fire" in a theatre." An inter-office memo dated February 8, 1935 states, "Hammell and Sheldon agreed to a line saying Paul has definitely broken with the professional gambling element of his political support, [and have] eliminated line which suggests the police take orders from a political boss. Thus police regard raid on Paul's tip rather than on his orders." On May 9, 1935, PCA director Joseph I. Breen informed Hammell that a Code seal had been awarded the film based on Hammell "deleting all the business of Big Boy [Guinn] Williams punching Raft [after] the first shot where Williams hits Raft for the first time." Breen accepted the sounds of an off-stage beating that occurs later in the film, but added that he feared state censor boards would eliminate the action of Raft actually applying the lighter to the mattress. General censor board objections included the choking of O'Rory by Jeff, the beating of Raft, and the off-screen sounds of a beating. Pennsylvania censor boards eliminated a line spoken by Clarkie in reference to the killing of Sloss as reported in the newspapers: "They got Sloss. Almost tore his head off, it says." Sweden rejected the film in August 1935 and in April 1943, when the film was apparently re-issued, "because all gangster pictures are thus censored." On May 15, 1935, Mrs. Sidney Mayer of the Carthay Circle School in Los Angeles, CA, wrote a letter of protest against the film to Breen, stating: "[The film producers] are not going to get away with it again."
Motion Picture Almanac lists this film as one of the box-office "champions" of the 1936-37 season. Several reviews refer to Rosalind Culli as Rosalind Keith. Motion Picture Herald calls Mack Gray's character "Scotty." The New York Times reviewer praises the "beautiful friendship" of Dashiell Hammett and the cinema, saying, "You May recall that when the murder films seemed in danger of being too grave in their study of the amiable art of mass slaughter, Mr. Hammett's "The Thin Man" began the cycle of what May be called the hilarious homicide school of crime fiction. Now, just when we were beginning to fear that the imitators of "The Thin Man" were becoming overly jocose on the subject of assassination, Mr. Hammett comes along with proof that murder isn't necessarily funny." The "glass key," the reviewer explains, is an underworld figure of speech for an invitation "which is motivated by expediency rather than genuine friendliness." This film was remade by Paramount in 1942 with Stuart Heisler directing and Brian Donlevy, Alad Ladd and Veronica Lake starring.