Wednesday 29 August 2007

Employees' Entrance (1933) Roy Del Ruth

We're at Franklin Monroe & Co, est 1878, a large department store. Apparently it's doing very well indeed with sales figures going from $10m to $100m in less than a decade, though trusted gentleman employees have gradually been sloughed away. The politeness of the past has gone, replaced by the brutal efficiency of General Manager Kurt Anderson, who is the key reason for the success. His code is 'smash or be smashed', and he's a man of his word. We first meet him making a power play to the board and he's obviously the only man at any level of power who has a clue. He has the guts and the balls to do anything needed; and to say anything to anyone, regardless of the consequences or the hurt feelings.

In fact he's precisely the sort of character you'd expect to be played by Warren William, especially as this is a precode so the writers don't have to hold back. Fortunately for us, that's precisely who got the part, and he's as dynamic, deep and versatile as you'd expect. It's perhaps a little stagy but it's almost impossible to notice when William's in his stride. He grabs our attention by sheer force of personality. He isn't loved but he's respected, because above anyone else, he gets the job done and with the depression starting to hit, who else could fill his boots?

Well there's one man, Martin West, played by Wallace Ford, who might just be able to do it, with time and training, and Kurt Anderson has had his eye on him long enough to hire him as his assistant. The problem is that he wants West to be available 24/7, though West has just got married secretly to Madeleine Walters who works at Monroe's as a model. Beyond the obvious difficulty in juggling schedules and finding nonexistent free time, Anderson had hired young and almost destitute Madeleine in the first place and took full advantage of the fact in the process.

There's a huge amount of truth here. The board are as out of touch as they could be, with members living on their yachts, spending their time welcoming visiting dignitaries and sending the same telegrams to the staff. The executive vice president who tries to keep his eyes on Anderson gets distracted by a fluffy model hired specifically to be that distraction. Anderson is great as his job but he's not great as a human being. He is sleazy enough to take advantage of Madeleine again, and while he doesn't know she's married we're left with the suggestion that he wouldn't have done anything different even if he had. He stoops to some seriously underhanded behaviour to get what he wants and in the hands of Warren William, it's all completely believable and while it's very precode, it could easily be shot precisely the same way today, just in colour.

William is awesome, as always. He was unbeatable in the precodes and while this isn't his greatest, it's still great. He's vicious here but never evil. He relishes in immoral behaviour but there's always a logical reason behind it, and he's not afraid to change his opinion or continue it in bizarre directions as long as that logic is there. He ruins one man and his business because of it but later makes something of the same man for precisely the same reason. He's consistent and powerful because of it.

I'm not a big fan of Wallace Ford, who plays Martin West, but this has to be the best I've seen him. Loretta Young is fine as Madeleine though to my mind she's outshone by Alice White as the fluffy golddigger Polly Dale. There are other names here, from a surprisingly quiet and not particularly ascerbic Ruth Donnelly to an uncredited Allen Jenkins as the store detective who costs Monroe's a concert grand piano. My only regret is that before long I'll have run out of Warren William precodes to watch.

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