|Employees’ Entrance (1933)
Run time: TV-PG | 75 min | Drama, Romance
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Writers: Robert Presnell Sr., David Boehm
Stars: Warren William, Loretta Young, Wallace Ford
A sharp, racy comedy-drama set in a big department store. William is terrific as the obsessed store manager, and White is a standout as what can only be described as a bimbo. Frank treatment of sex in this pre-Code movie.
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12,000 workers pass through the EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE of Franklin Monroe & Co., the world’s largest department store. Hounded & harried by their merciless management, they have produced a superior retail establishment. However, the cost in broken hearts & lives has been tremendous, as greed & ambition struggle for control of the entire corporation…
This is an excellent film that rewards diligent attention from the viewer. Like its predecessor, SKYSCRAPER SOULS (1932), the story takes a diverse cast of characters, puts them in a large structure, stirs in a witches’ brew of human emotions, and applies intense pressure on them all from the top down. Fine production values help the believability in this pre-Production Code drama.
Warren William dominates the picture – just as he did in SKYSCRAPER SOULS (1932) in an identical role- as the store’s completely amoral, conniving, tyrannical manager. He is perfect in the part and it is fascinating to watch a skilled actor portray a thoroughly bad character. As one of the finer actors of the decade, it is indeed a shame the William is all but forgotten today.
The rest of the cast is excellent: Wallace Ford & Loretta Young as a secretly married couple whom William tries to corrupt; Alice White as the store floozy, willing to drop her morals at William’s command; Ruth Donnelly as William’s no-nonsense secretary; Frank Reicher & Charles Sellon as two old men who respond in very different ways to having William destroy their livelihood; and Hale Hamilton as the store’s ineffectual, absentee owner.
Movie mavens will recognize Allen Jenkins as an undercover store security officer and Charles Lane as a shoe salesman, both unbilled.
Although meant to be great entertainment and nothing more, this film should raise just enough questions in the viewer’s mind so as to get them pondering what really goes on behind all those closed doors at their own favorite department store.
Behind the pedestrian title lurks a rather savage look at survival-era capitalism as played out during that desperate depression year of 1933. Who else is better outfitted to protect the average working stiff from cut-throat competition and unemployment than a tiger shark bigger than those circling around. Department store shark Warren William is in charge of 12,000 average Joe's, and by golly he's going to keep them swimming even if he has to eat half of them in the process. Bravura performance from William– watch his eyes slink around the hallway before he enters the hotel room to ravish a drunkenly compliant Loretta Young. His authoritative presence commands the movie as completely as he does his underlings. Film may come as a revelation to viewers unfamiliar with pre-Code Hollywood, before the censors took over in 1934. Nonetheless, it was an era of social frankness that would not emerge again until the counter-cultural 1960's, while the movie itself would play as well today as it did then, as one reviewer sagely observes.
Much of film's value lies in getting us to think about the appeal a strongman-tyrant presents during turbulent times. We loathe William's ruthless and often cruel tactics. But at the same time he's inventive, decisive, and brutally logical– with a single-minded dedication that goes beyond personal happiness. In short, he becomes The Department Store in the same way an effective tyrant can personify The State. He's a figure to be loathed, yet grudgingly admired at the same time, while it's a credit to the film-makers that they pull off the ambivalence as well as they do. Two scenes stay with me that help define William's compelling side–watch him nearly throw up at the smarmy speech given in behalf of the store's worthless owners, plus his face-to-face denunciation of bankers as parasitically unproductive, a passage that probably brought depression-era audiences to their feet.There are also unexpected deposits of humor, such as the bald man/balloon gag that is hilariously inventive and likely a brainstorm from ace director Roy del Ruth. On the other hand, Wallace Ford simply lacks the kind of edge to make his role as William's assistant plausible. Instead, a face-off between William and, say, Cagney would have exploded the screen.
Anyhow, don't let the forgettable title or the now obscure Warren William fool you. There are so many memorable glimpses of human honesty, that the movie must be seen to be appreciated, especially by those unfamiliar with the pre-Code era. So catch up with this cynical little gem if you can.
This is a remarkable little movie.
It has a bad guy that you actually have to like. Most of the story is spent setting him up as a conventional villain, a ruthless guy who capriciously ruins lives. A hateful, selfish man, arrogant and exploitative.
Along the way, he sleeps with a pretty employee and then when he finds she is married to his protégé he tries to ruin the pair. A man he fired kills himself, and the pretty girl (Loretta Young) tries to. In his manner, he is as brusque and offensive as he can be. He hires a floozy to compromise a fellow executive. He harangues everyone.
And yet by the end you actually like the guy and are surprised at being tricked into doing so. He fights to avoid laying off thousands of employees (because of the depression) in a fight to the death with the bankers. He proves to be honest, if misogynistic.
The two girls are incredibly sexy, as this was made just before the code slammed the shutters on women in film.
Alice White plays the floozy just before a sex scandal ruined her career a second time. She had previous been "helped" by a few directors including Chaplin. We are seeing a real fading flapper here.
Loretta Young, at 20 is as beautifully photographed as she would ever be. How odd to see the pretty girl as one who could be seduced so… twice.
But that's all by the way. The writing of this thing is so competent it rocked me back. I watch a lot of movies and usually have to let my imagination fill in for various deficiencies. Not so here. The writer of this also did the "Kennel Murder Case" of the same year, also excellent.
Excellent again. A good old straight ahead movie that fools you into thinking it is straight ahead and then it turns things a bit upside down.
Ted's Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.
A very watchable pre-code film – not so only it’s risque elements but for acting (particularly Warren William), plot, comedy and fast pace. One of my favorites of the era.
It’s very interesting how Warren William – who treats women like objects, tries to break up a budding romance (by seducing and sleeping with Loretta Young, not once but twice!!), indirectly leads to a employees’ suicide, etc – manages to "win" in the end. For the most part, the is the "bad guy" in the story…although he has a few redeeming characteristics.
It’s worth owning the video.
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