A recent expose of corporate scandal? No, this was the ad copy for Employees' Entrance (1933), a shocking pre-code movie with a surprising relevance to today.
Warren William stars as the appropriately named Kurt Anderson, a corporate hotshot brought in to save Franklin Monroe & Co., the world's largest department store. The Depression has hit the store hard but Anderson sweeps aside all excuses. When one of the board of directors opines that, "I don't know if there's very much to be said. There's a depression and everybody's affected. I should say the thing to do is retrench, economize;" Anderson barks back, "Get out! You're dead weight!" The board member soon becomes literally dead weight, committing suicide. Anderson sheds no tears. "When a man outlives his usefulness, he ought to jump out a window!"
William with his lean, wolfish features, is one of the most enjoyable actors of the early 1930&'s, that time before strict enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code. The lack of restraint allows William to create a complex portrait of a ruthless but successful business titan. Just as we begin to enjoy his dynamic, take-charge personality, Anderson seduces a much-younger, naive employee (Loretta Young), and then sets out to destroy her marriage to his top salesman, Martin West (Wallace Ford).
Even at the time of its release, reviewers noted William's ability to make this scoundrel attractive. Released just weeks after President Franklin Roosevelt's inauguration, Employees' Entrance provided what audiences mired in the depths of the Depression wanted; a strong man who would take charge and get the economy moving again. Fortunately, the film also showed some of the damage such a dictatorial character could do.
Warren William was not Warner's first choice to play the role of the hard-charging executive. Edward G. Robinson was offered the role but turned down the part along with many others, causing some grief between him and the studio. Alice White, who plays Polly Dale, the bait Anderson uses to destroy his business rivals, had been a big star for Warner Brothers in the late silent/early sound era but her fame had waned when the flapper type with which she was associated went out of style. Reviewers favorably noted her performance here and it was considered a comeback role but a scandal later that same year sent her back to the ranks of supporting players.
Although based on a play, Employees' Entrance had a touch of the ripped-from-the-headlines quality shared by many of the Warner Brothers' movies of the early 1930's. Variety speculated that the story referred to Klein's department store in New York, which had enjoyed an unaccountable success during the Depression. Hale Hamilton's character, Monroe, with his many City Hall connections, was assumed to be a parody of New York's "official greeter" Grover Whalen.
Employees' Entrance is one of the great surprises unearthed from the formerly banned vault of pre-code films and is highly recommended to any who wish to sample the audacity and frankness that briefly flourished in the early 1930's.
Producer: Lucien Hubbard
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay: Robert R. Presnell, Sr.
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Cinematography: Barney "Chick" McGill
Editing: James Gibbon
Music: Leo F. Forbstein
Cast: Warren William (Kurt Anderson), Loretta Young (Madeline West), Wallace Ford (Martin West), Alice White (Polly), Albert Gran (Ross), Allen Jenkins (Sweeney), Marjorie Gateson (Mrs. Hickox).
BW-75m. Closed captioning.
by Brian Cady