Welcome to a new Film Friday and the continuation of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of the beautiful Loretta Young (1913-2000), whose work we’ve never covered before here on Film Friday! Last week we started with Loose Ankles (1930). Today…
An unscrupulous department store manager stops at nothing to get what he wants. Starring Warren William, Loretta Young, Wallace Ford, and Alice White. Screenplay by Robert Presnell, Sr. Based on a play by David Boehm. Directed by Roy del Ruth.
“Kurt Anderson is the dictatorial general manager of the Franklin Monroe Department Store. His ruthless devotion to the philosophy of profit over people makes him hated by all, but the store does well financially. One evening after closing, he meets Madeline Walters, a beautiful young woman who wants a job. They spend the night together and he hires her as a model. She starts to date Martin West, a successsful salesman. Anderson likes Martin’s ideas for improving Depression-plagued sales and appoints him his assistant, but warns him that it is no job for a married man. Anderson is so cynical about women that he doubles the salary of another model, Polly Dale, to distract his boss, Denton Ross, who is infatuated with Polly, and keep him from interfering in the business. Despite Anderson’s warnings, Martin and Madeline secretly marry, but their relationship suffers because Martin is always at Anderson’s beck and call. After they quarrel at the employees’ dance, Martin gets drunk and Madeline spends another night with Anderson.
“When Anderson asks her out again, she refuses and reveals that she is secretly married. Anderson is furious and tries to force Polly to break up the marriage. When she refuses, Anderson tries to fire her, but Ross is so enamoured, he blocks the attempt. As a last resort, Anderson lets Martin overhear a conversation with Madeline in which the story of their affair comes out. Madeline takes poison and Martin confronts Anderson. Anderson is about to be fired by the store’s board of directors, but is saved by some last minute proxy votes. Martin and Madeline reconcile and decide to look for new jobs away from the Monroe Department Store.” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of TCM.)
Our spotlighted star, the incandescent Loretta Young, plays a model who secretly marries a salesman and fools around with the boss (who gave her a job in the film’s opening) when her hubby’s work has her feeling neglected. It hardly gets more Pre-Code than that! Meanwhile, Young’s boss is played by everyone’s favorite morally reprehensible charmer, Warren William. Known for playing smarmy villains with great mastery, Warren William has been nicknamed by some as the “King of Pre-Code.” Watching a film like Employees’ Entrance should illustrate why.
William, as he often did, plays a villain — cold, ruthless, undoubtedly the antagonist of the piece — standing in the way of our ingenue (Young) and juvenile (Ford, whose vanilla performance is the film’s only major flaw). But, as much as we dislike William’s character and the part he plays in the narrative, we recognize both his role’s necessity and the profundity with which he plays it. Furthermore, William imbues each role with such humanity that we can at least understand why he exists as an obstacle. That is, while cast as a symbol of capitalism (a concept which represented a lack of sympathy — especially during the Great Depression), his unmitigated ambition is something that keeps the character relatable and perhaps noble. Yes, he is an extreme (as villains must often be) — but he’s a human. And that’s what’s delightful about Pre-Codes and their presentations of good vs. evil. The evil is human, and therefore, something more real: perhaps existing amongst and within all of us.
But Employees’ Entrance isn’t just the story of human beings; it’s the story of adults. The most risqué moments of the film, and certainly the most exciting, are the times in which Young and William have relations — out of wedlock. It’s beyond passé for cinema in 1933, but it’s nevertheless effective, not only because William is the villain, but because Young, though a wise and modern woman of the Pre-Coe world, is blessed with a beguiling innocence that makes any of her misdeeds far more fascinating than they would be if done by the sharp-tongued hussy. (Speaking of which, Alice White is very funny as the secondary female, a tartish clerk whom William pays to keep his boss occupied.) The combo of Young and William — of two different worlds, but not in complete opposition — is dynamic.
So while Employees’ Entrance works as a Loretta Young picture, it certainly also works as a Warren William one too. And if you’re a fan of either of these Pre-Code greats, I suggest seeking out Employees’ Entrance. It’s fun, it’s fresh, it’s fantastic.
Come back next Friday for another Young Pre-Code! And tune in on Monday for the start of a whole new week of fun on That’s Entertainment!