Saturday, June 13, 2020

Stubs - Employees' Entrance

Employees' Entrance (1933) Starring: Warren William, Loretta Young, Wallace Ford. Directed by Roy Del Ruth. Screenplay by Robert Presnell Produced by Lucien Hubbard. Run Time: 75 minutes USA Black and White Drama, Pre-code

During their heyday, the studios were cranking out product to fill their theaters; one new film a week. Films were made on an assembly line basis. Unaffected by the Production Code, the studios were also free to deal with subject matter that in a few years they would no longer be able to. These pre-code films have developed a certain mythic status as Pre-Code, which makes them sound much more salacious than they really are. While they may deal with more adult subject matter, they are still rather tame in comparison with modern films. They might deal with sex but there is no nudity or actual sex. One such film is Employee’s Entrance, a Warner Bros. film.

Shot in twenty-three days and made for a total cost of $188,000, Employees' Entrance was released just weeks after President Franklin Roosevelt's first inauguration. At the time, the country was deep into the Great Depression, which makes the story seem like it was ripped from the headlines.

The film opens with a montage tracing the history of the Franklin Monroe Department Store, which we are told twice was founded by a descendant of both James Monroe and Benjamin Franklin. Franklin Monroe is supposed to be the world’s largest department store and in one year, prior to the Depression, we’re led to believe brought in $100 million. Think Macy’s in its heyday on steroids.

As we watch revenue increase, we’re also shown the downside as employees considered to be behind the times are let go. All are told that it’s due to Mr. Anderson. We don’t meet Kurt Anderson until the next board meeting. Commodore Franklin Monroe (Hale Hamilton) wants Anderson to be railed in and do what he’s told. However, when Kurt (Warren William) is brought in, he doesn’t want to go along with their ideas.

The Employees' Entrance to the Franklin Monroe Department Store.

Anderson, who has worked his way up through the ranks of the store, rails against their ideas, and even insults the Commodore, who owns the store. His efforts have made the store what it is and Anderson demands more money and free reign, or else he’ll walk to their competitor. The Commodore, who is needed to greet Trans-Atlantic fliers, rushes off and in his absence, the board gives into Anderson’s demands.

Kurt Anderson (Warren William) with his secretary Miss Hall (Ruth Donnelly).

As an example of his autocratic rule, we see him confront Garfinkle (Frank Reicher), a supplier who informs him that he can’t make his complete delivery of the coats he’s been hired to make due to work issues. Anderson, who has already placed ads about the coat sale the next day, is not understanding in the least. He tells his secretary Miss Hall (Ruth Donnelly) to take delivery of what Garfinkle can deliver and then cancel the order. This will mean ruin for the small businessman but Anderson doesn’t care. He even plans to sue Garfinkle for the cost of the ads and the lost sales.

After work, Anderson goes to take a look at one of the store’s many floors and as he passes a home display, he hears piano music. Following it into the display, he sees the comely Madeline Walters (Loretta Young) playing. Madeline is flirtatious and Anderson seems to fall for her. Unaware of who she’s talking to, she tells him that she wants to stay the night so that she can be first in line to apply for a job at the store. When a guard on his rounds identifies him, he offers to take her out for dinner.
It’s nearly midnight and Madeline thinks it’s time to leave, but Anderson has other ideas.

Madeleine (Loretta Young) wants to leave, but Anderson has other ideas.

Madeleine Walters: Good night, Mr. Anderson. Well, thanks again.
Kurt Anderson: Now, wait a minute. You don't have to go, you know.
Madeleine Walters: Oh, yes I do.
Kurt Anderson: No, you don't.
[kiss, fade out]

The next day, she reports to the store as a clothes model. With no experience, she is paired with Polly Dale (Alice White), who is immediately called up to Anderson’s office, something she’s informed is a common occurrence.

Anderson knows Polly Dale (Alice White) has been trying to seduce him for years. 

Up in Anderson’s office, he makes it clear that Polly has been trying to seduce him for a long time.

Polly Dale: Hello, Mr. Anderson.
Kurt Anderson: Oh, it's you. I didn't know you with all your clothes on.

At Anderson's orders, Polly seduces Denton Ross (Albert Gran).

He has a job for her. The board has left Denton Ross (Albert Gran) to supervise Anderson and he wants Polly to distract him. For double her salary, to $70 a week, she is more than anxious to take on the challenge. She goes right away to Ross’ office to seek his help with an imagined issue she’s having.

Polly Dale: I'm a model.
Denton Ross: Have you been having any trouble?
Polly Dale: Yes.
Denton Ross: Tell me all about it, my dear.
Polly Dale: It's about stockings.
Denton Ross: Stockings?
Polly Dale: Yes. They don't want me to wear stockings - and that means no girdle. Oh, I feel just awful!

Ross takes one look at Polly and he is willing to do whatever she wants.

During a meeting to brainstorm ideas to save the company,
Ross reads a letter from the owner, the Commodore.

The Great Depression is causing financial trouble for the store and Anderson calls in his top assistants and department heads to brainstorm ideas to turn things around. Ross is no help and instead reads a missive from the Commodore sent from his yacht.

Martin West (Wallace Ford) comes up with an innovative idea to have men’s products displayed outside the women’s department. Arnold Higgins (Charles Sellon) balks, but Anderson likes the idea and fires Higgins on the spot.

Madeline models a wedding dress.

West observes Madeline as she models a wedding dress and makes a play with her, using sheet music with provocative titles to tell her how he feels about her. The two of them start to date and get hot and heavy with marriage the next step.

Martin West (Wallace Ford) notices Madeline.

Meanwhile, Anderson takes a liking to West and makes him his assistant. He tells his new protégé that he must devote himself completely to business. He expects West to be available 24 hours a day and even to avoid getting romantically involved.

Martin and Polly become romantically involved.

Madeline is not happy to hear about this on the day they’re supposed to get married, which is when West springs it on her. However, he does go ahead and marries her, trying to keep it a secret from his new boss.

On what's supposed to be their wedding day, Martin tells
Madeline about Anderson's demands on his time.

Higgins, who has been hanging around trying to get his old job back, eventually comes to the realization that he’s never going to get his job back. Distraught, Higgins throws himself out of a 9th story window to his death. West is dismayed when Anderson is unperturbed by the news.

Kurt Anderson: When a man outlives his usefulness, he ought to jump out a window.

Anderson gets Madeline drunk at the company party.

Trying to keep their marriage a secret is hard on the two of them. When they argue at the Employee Dance, West leaves Madeline alone and gets drunk. Madeline does her own drinking and is pretty inebriated when Anderson makes his move on her. He’s subtle, getting her drunk on champagne.

Madeline goes upstairs to Anderson's private suite.

Telling her that she should lie down, he sends her up to his private suite at the hotel.

Later, he slips upstairs and we’re led to believe has his way with her.

When Anderson asks her out again, she refuses, telling him that she is married to West. Anderson is furious and tries to get Polly to break up the marriage. She suddenly has scruples and refuses.

Kurt Anderson: When did YOU develop principles?
Polly Dale: Oh, I saved a couple out of the crash.

Furious, Anderson tries to fire her, but Ross blocks him.

As a last resort, Anderson lets West overhear a conversation with Madeline in which the story of their affair comes out and West learns about the times his wife has slept with Anderson.

Upset, Madeline takes poison and is rushed to the hospital. When he learns about it, West is furious. He confronts and threatens to kill Anderson. Anderson gives him a gun to do it with and West shoots him. The bullet hits him in the arm, inflicting a minor wound. When the other employees rush in, having heard the shot, Anderson acts like nothing has happened. West quits to be with Madeline.

Anderson has his own worries. The board is threatening to vote him out. With the ever-absent Commodore away on his yacht in the Mediterranean, things look hopeless. Ross, who is suddenly on Anderson’s side, sends telegrams for the Commodore to all the ports he might dock in. He wants to vote the shares by proxy.

When he thinks things are over for him at the store, Anderson agrees to run away with Polly.

Thinking things are over for him, Anderson offers to run away to Europe with Polly, who is excited about the prospect. He tells her to buy all the clothes she thinks she’ll need and to charge it to him.

Meanwhile, Ross hears back from the Commodore and has the votes to stop the board. The two rush over to the board’s offsite meeting just in time.

Anderson is not happy about the dog Polly has brought back to the store.

Back at the store, Anderson is back in charge. When Polly comes back with her bounty of goods, including a new dog, Anderson acts like he doesn’t know what she’s talking about running away together and tells her to return all of the clothes. He then promotes Garfinkle, who has been working at the store since the collapse of his own business. Ruthless and embittered, he has the qualities Anderson wants for his new assistant.

In the hospital, West is by Madeline’s side, promising to start over with her away from the Monroe Department Store.

The film’s quick production is reflected in a story that never seems to lose steam as it moves from start to finish. Some bits, like the initial meeting between Anderson and Madeline might be implausible but the pace of the film doesn’t give you much of a chance to contemplate it.

Anderson, who may have come across as a tough efficient man in the early 1930’s comes across more as an HR nightmare in today’s post #metoo world. He treats women as nothing more than sexual playthings. When West asks him about relationships, Anderson’s answer is less than caring.

Martin West: Don't you - like women?
Kurt Anderson: Sure, I like 'em! In their place. But, there's no time for wives in this job. Love 'em and leave 'em! Get me?

And when a woman gets to be trouble, he has an answer for that as well. Ross feels trapped by the hold Polly has on him and complains to Anderson.

Denton Ross: She's blackmailing me! I'm caught like a rat in a trap! I'll be ruined! Franklin Monroe might hear of it! Anderson, you know all about women. What am I to do?
Kurt Anderson: Why don't you kill her?

Such talk wouldn’t fly anymore.

Anderson is an intriguing but not likable character. He’s ruthless and unforgiving. Maybe that’s good for profits but he’s not someone you’d like to work for.

Warren William, however, is good in the role. Nicknamed the “King of Pre-Code”, William was a popular actor that audiences loved to hate. William developed a reputation for portraying ruthless, amoral businessmen in such films as Under 18 (1931), Skyscraper Souls (1932), The Match King (1932), and Employees' Entrance, crafty lawyers in such films as The Mouthpiece (1932), The Case of the Howling Dog (1934), and outright charlatans in The Mind Reader (1933). Seeing as the height of his career was during the deepest period of the Depression, the roles he became famous for were ones that audiences tended to jeer.

Loretta Young had been in films since she was three and appeared as an Arab child in The Sheik (1921). By the time she made this film, at about 20 years old, she was already a veteran performer. She’s good in the role of Madeline though she would only get better as an actress, eventually winning an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Farmer's Daughter (1947).

British-born Wallace Ford had, like so many actors, started out on the stage before making the move to films. He may be best remembered for the lead in Freaks (1932). However, Ford would go on to appear in over 150 films over the next 30 years, including such films as The Rogues' Tavern (1936), Murder by Invitation (1941), Roar of the Press (1941), The Lost Patrol (1934), Shadow of a Doubt (1942), Spellbound (1945), and Dead Reckoning (1947). In Employee’s Entrance, he plays a flawed man who is presented as a sort of the antithesis of William’s Kurt Anderson. Unlike the lead, West chooses love over success. He’s good in the role, but William seems to suck down all the oxygen when the two of them are on screen.

Alice White plays Polly Dale in Employees' Entrance.

Alice White, who plays Polly Dale, had been a minor star in silent films. Dubbed a second-string Clara Bow, White was more of a bubbly, vivacious blonde. Employees' Entrance marks her return to films, after leaving the industry in 1931 to improve her acting abilities. However, personal scandal would doom her to supporting roles. She started out as a secretary to director Josef von Sternberg and later Charlie Chaplin, and when her career ended in 1949, she would return to that profession. This role highlights her best features, as Polly is nothing if not bubbly and amusing.

For a film that clocks in at an hour and fifteen minutes, there is a lot to recommend about Employees' Entrance. There is never a dull moment. However, Kurt Anderson is not really a role model and he never really gets his comeuppance. His was a character that could only have been portrayed on screen before the Production Code took hold. It might not agree with our modern sensibilities, but it is a good example of what is considered a Pre-Code film.

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