Employees’ Entrance (1933)

Directed by Roy Del Ruth

Pre-Code

Cinematography Barney McGill

Plot

Kurt Anderson is the ruthless, hard-driving general manager of the Monroe department store. The store is a financial powerhouse because of Anderson’s brutally efficient strategies and autocratic leadership.

When a new clothing supplier, Garfinkle, tells Anderson that part of the large first order will be delayed three days because of labor trouble, Anderson cancels the order and instructs his secretary to sue for damages. Garfinkle is ruined, but Anderson doesn’t care.

After closing, Anderson discovers Madeline Walters hiding in the store. Broke and unemployed, she is going to apply to work at Monroe’s first thing in the morning. When she finds out who he is, she lets him take advantage of her to ensure she gets a job as a model in the clothing department.

employees-entrance-800

With the Great Depression cutting into the store’s business, Anderson demands new ideas from his department heads. When Martin West comes up with an innovative idea, Higgins, the longtime head of men’s clothing does not approve, but Anderson is impressed. He promptly tells Martin to go ahead, and fires Higgins. Seeing promise in West, Anderson makes him his assistant. He tells his new protégé that he must devote himself completely to business and nothing else if he is to get ahead; he asks if Martin is married, and is relieved when the answer is no. Anderson, a compulsive philanderer, holds women in contempt, believing that all they seek is financial security and control over their husbands. He views marital commitment as incompatible with running a successful business. However, unbeknownst to Anderson, Martin and Madeleine have fallen in love. He tells her that he cannot marry until his position is more secure, but, on an impulse, does so anyway, though he keeps it a secret from Anderson. This puts a strain on the marriage.

Anderson doubles the salary of employee Polly Dale (Alice White) to keep his nominal overseer, Denton Ross, occupied, leaving him a free hand to manage the store without interference. Higgins tries repeatedly to see Anderson to ask for his job back, but fails. Finally Higgins commits suicide by jumping out of a ninth floor window of the store. Martin is dismayed when Anderson is unperturbed by the news.

employees7

 

 

After the Wests quarrel at a company party, Anderson finds a vulnerable Madeleine alone and gets her drunk on champagne. When she decides to leave, he offers the inebriated Madeleine his upstairs hotel suite to rest and clear her head. After she falls asleep on the bed, he enters the room and rapes her. The next day, an embarrassed Madeleine insists that Anderson leave her alone. During their heated conversation, she lets slip that she is married to Martin. After she quits and threatens to take her husband with her, Anderson tries to get Polly to seduce Martin, but she refuses. He then has Martin eavesdrop on the intercom while he summons Madeleine to his office. Martin learns of the times Madeleine slept with Anderson.

Madeleine unsuccessfully attempts suicide with pills, prompting a furious Martin to confront and threaten to kill his boss. Anderson, facing his own dismissal by cautious bankers afraid of his ambitious plans, dares him to do it, even providing a gun. Martin shoots, but only inflicts a minor wound. When employees dash in, Anderson acts as if nothing had happened. Martin quits.

Ross manages to contact the store’s frequently absent owner, Commodore Franklin Monroe, and gets his proxy just in time for the vote of the board of 40 directors. Anderson keeps his job. He promptly promotes Garfinkle, embittered and now just as ruthless, to be his new assistant.

Production

Warren William was not originally cast in the lead role, he replaced Hale Hamilton,  who ended up playing a smaller part, but Edward G. Robinson had also been offered the lead The film took 23 days for principal photography. Although Alice White had been a major star for Warners at the time that silent films were giving way to sound pictures, but by the time of Employees’ Entrance her star had faded when the flapper craze abated. Her supporting role here garnered good reviews and sent her onto the comeback trail, but a scandal later in 1933 returned her to being a supporting actor.

employees-entrance-busride

Employee’s Entrance: Sorting the Successful From the Failures

I think our antiheroes nowadays have gotten a little too clean under their collars. When I mention the phrase, your mind probably turns to Disney cartoons where the parrot Iago starts to team up with Aladdin, or you race back to The Fast and the Furious series which follows car thieves who live glamorous lives but almost coincidentally end up doing the right thing.

And, sure, the 1930’s had their share of gentlemen thieves, with William Powell taking loot and women’s hearts as he pleased, but when the men and women of the 1930’s got nasty, the film’s often followed along. To modern audience’s, Warren William’s Kurt Anderson is a monster, an almost physical embodiment of the tyrannical power of capitalism. He exploits, he destroys, and, at the end of the day, he continues to do so because it makes everyone more money.

That damns a lot of people along the way naturally. Anderson is the manager of a department store– one of those high class, high prestige places that existed in New York back in the day. In a decade under his reign, the store’s sales have increased more than ten times. He’s ruthless, dismissing senior employees without a shrug and noting, after one jumps out of the store’s ninth floor window, that all men should kill themselves after outliving their usefulness

employees6

If you think Anderson sounds like a bit of a crotchety man, don’t let that fool you. He’s a man of power, and since he’s in charge of hiring, he knows the best way to relax is to trade work for sexual favors. From the female employees, at least. And the male ones… well, we can talk about that more below.

When he discovers Madeline (Loretta Young), a starving girl who has tried to spend the night in the store’s model house (one of the movie’s many moments mocking traditional domesticity). He treats her to a feast and, when she tries to make her way to his apartment’s door, he stops her and demands payment for one brand shiny new job.

Madeline begins working as a model for the store, but the incident clearly unnerved her. While she had been flirtatious to Anderson, it’s quite apparent that she fears ever running into him again. Luckily for her, he’s got other matters on his mind for the moment.

ee_poster

Where the film turns Anderson purely into an anti-hero rather than a unsympathetic creature is by showing us the people he works for. The store’s owner is Franklin Monroe, who descended from the gene pools of James Monroe and Ben Franklin; again, presumably, these two themselves didn’t procreate on their own. He controls the board of directors along with a portly cousin, and Monroe stays mostly concerned with attending ceremonies and vacationing in the Mediterranean. The rest of the board are a number of bloated bankers, who are only happy when there’s plenty of profit for them to roll in.

The film loves to subvert things, and the American revolution is one of its prime targets. Besides Monroe’s lineage, the often-absent owner continues to send telegrams to the store’s employee’s full of thundering speech and encouragement. He relies on Thomas Paines’ “These are the times that try men’s souls” to refer to the Depression, but it instead reveals an executive who merely continues to buy into the platitudes of the American way with no substantial interest in its actualities. American history is a punchline for the new reality.

Anderson is the epitome of the Depression’s new paradigm, a ruthless businessman who is willing to fight for every dollar. Early in the film we see a bust of Napoleon that fades into  Anderson’s hurried face. He’s cruel and heartless, and encourages the same traits in his employees. This is the fate that befalls young Martin (Wallace Ford), an eager to please ideas guy. Anderson promotes him to assistant and demands that every waking moment is spent in service of the company.

employeesentrance3

But, wouldn’t you know it, Martin meets Madeline, and after a quick flirtation involving sheet music, they’re married. Unfortunately, Martin’s complete obedience to Anderson, the man who coerced Madeline into sex, kind of puts a damper on the whole thing. Martin keeps his marriage a secret, and things come to a head at a company party. Martin gets trashed and starts singing “Sweet Adeline” and Madeline runs into Anderson again in a side room.

He gets her completely wasted, and offers her his room key so that she can sleep it off. Promising to be a gentleman, he instead waits for her to fall asleep before moving in. And fade out.

I’ve read a quite a few reviews (check out below if you don’t believe me), and I’ve seen the word ‘seduced’ thrown out a surprising number of times. For the 1930’s, that may have been what this was, but taking advantage of a sleeping woman nowadays is far more taboo. And, yes, this Pre-Code film may end with Anderson left virtually unpunished for committing rape.

And, after saying all of this, I did want to note that the film does often delve into comedy… Yes, comedy! There are different vignettes about the usual assortment of funny customers (a Jewish man recoils at a ‘pigskin’ football, a woman asks which floor the basement is on) and Anderson’s antics can sometimes be hilariously nasty. When he pays Polly to practice seduction Monroe’s cousin for his benefit, the two trade barbs with a cruel glee.

There’s some really clever direction throughout, too. If you go all the way back up to the profiles of the characters near the top of this review, you’ll notice in two of them we’re treated to a hearty side view of Warren William’s wonderful nose. Many of the scenes just gravitate towards William, so most of the movie’s lengthy scenes in his office will either be a full shot of him, or him in the foreground as the person he’s talking to responds. He’s a constant presence here.

And it works because Warren William is so good at being able to play just so bad. Every ounce of conscience he claims to have here can be attributed to other ulterior motives, but every joke he makes lands and every bit of egotism he displays seems genuine and earned. He’s a self-made son of a bitch, and I can’t imagine another actor successfully blending such a despicable, angry creature with such understated sadness.

employees3

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s