Skyscraper Souls (1932)

Skyscraper Souls 1932 Warren WilliamDavid Dwight (Warren William) is a man who only cares about two things: the hundred story skyscraper he’s built and women.  Lots and lots of women.  He’s married to Ella (Hedda Hopper), but only technically.  He pays all her extravagant bills and she doesn’t mind the many other women in his life.  There’s Sarah Dennis (Verree Teasdale), his long-time secretary and mistress.  Sarah wants him to divorce his wife and marry her, but he says Ella won’t divorce him.  The truth is, he’s never even asked for a divorce.  And then there’s Lynn Harding (Maureen O’Sullivan), Sarah’s secretary.  Lynn’s has been seeing Tom Shepard (Norman Foster), a bank teller, but she’s more interested in marrying a rich man.  So when David tries to phase things out with Sarah and make Lynn his new girl, it’s hard for Lynn to resist.

When David isn’t trying to manage all the women in his life, he’s desperately fighting to save his bank and his building.  Bank examiners are investigating him for taking out a massive loan from his own bank to build his skyscraper and to save his bank, he arranges a merger with another bank.  When Tom gets a tip about the merger, he buys up stock thinking that once the stock went up, he’d have enough money to make Lynn want to marry him.  Lots of other people have the same idea, not knowing that David has worked out a plan to get the price of the stock to soar, then get out and leave everyone else holding the bag.  When the stock plummets again, many of the shareholders are completely ruined, including Tom.  David couldn’t possibly care less about the jilted shareholders, though.  Now he owns his building outright and he’s got Lynn willing to go to Europe with him.  When Sarah finds out about what he’s done, she refuses to let him destroy Lynn’s wife the way he destroyed hers.

Skyscraper Souls is really a lot like Grand Hotel.  Only instead of a fabulous art deco hotel, it takes place in fabulous art deco offices.  There’s even a scene where Anita Page’s character wears the same dress as Joan Crawford in Grand Hotel:

But despite the similarities between the two movies, Skyscraper Souls never feels like a cheap imitation of Grand Hotel.  If you know someone who claims they don’t like old movies because they’re cheesy and unrealistic, Skyscraper Souls is a good one to show them to try to change their mind.  It’s definitely a movie that could still be made today.  People who think old movies were all like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals would definitely be surprised to see David’s very open marriage, murder, suicide, Anita Page playing a prostitute, and how virtually everybody is trying to use other people to get what they want.  There was nothing even remotely safe about this movie.  It’s even got a little bit of cursing, if you listen carefully:

Warren William gave an outstanding performance as such an incredibly ruthless and unethical business man.  I loved how he was able to walk the line between being a horrendous jerk but remaining charming enough that you can see why all these women were attracted to him.  Maureen O’Sullivan did a great job of remaining quite likeable even though she played a self-confessed gold digger.  I thought Sarah was quite an interesting character, especially in regard to how she was torn between being a jilted lover and protective of Lynn.  She and Lynn were very close friends and Sarah would do anything to see that Lynn was happy.  But then when David’s all set to run off with Lynn instead of marrying her, Sarah had very good reason to wash her hands of Lynn forever.  In many other movies, this would have played out differently and more predictably.  But this one takes the less-traveled path and ends with the ex-mistress trying to save the new mistress.

My only complaint about Skyscraper Souls is that some of the subplots felt kind of tacked on.  I like Anita Page, so I really would have liked to have seen her in a bigger part here.  Especially since her acting here was much better than it was in The Broadway Melody, so she had really grown as an actress for talkies.  If I had a star rating system, I’d give it three out of four stars.  Not perfect, but it’s certainly something I’d gladly watch again.

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8 comments

  1. This film sounds utterly fabulous! I think it’s hilarious when people think old movies are all clean-cut & sanitized, when we all know that the Production Code was created because movies were getting TOO filthy!

    1. It amazes me how many people think the world really was so clean-cut back then. I think part of what makes pre-codes so fun to watch is that they are shocking in a really fun way. Even if you do know what they could get away with, sometimes they can be pretty eyebrow raising and I love it.

  2. This is an all-time favorite that I covered recently on my Warren William site to coincide with when TCM aired it … which never happens!

    I love that you love this movie, great write-up! Great catch on Anita and Joan’s dresses too! MGM wardrobe? Films released the same year, hmmm?

    I recently read the Faith Baldwin novel this was covered by and was amazed to see that your favorite incident–and mine–the ride they gave the Seacoast stock, was not an incident in the story. In fact, Dwight isn’t even a banker in the book which focuses more on Lynn’s life.

    You might want to give it a read, it’s back in print in a Femme Fatale series of paperbacks by one of the publishers–Anita Page’s character is much bigger figure in the novel, as are the Wallace Ford character and the married woman that Ford is consorting with.

    As for the film though, yup, always in my Warren William Top 5 and usually near the top. Thanks for writing about it!

    1. I knew this one would be right up your alley! So glad you liked it! The novel version sounds quite interesting. I can’t believe the stock story wasn’t in the original novel at all, it was such a major part of the movie. I wonder if that was added specifically because it was made during the Depression and I can’t imagine a better Depression era villain than a corrupt banker.

      1. I think the movie improved upon the book as the Dwight character is still slimy as heck, but without the redeeming quality of his passion towards the Dwight Building (which doesn’t exist) he stays pretty slimy inside Baldwin’s pages.

        I’m so glad MGM made this because of the stylish sets, but I’m even happier William’s home studio (Warners) kept this Warren William type going in his subsequent pre-code roles. For an MGM picture the pacing seems all Warners’ though!

  3. I just watched this film on TCM tonight and like the rest of you I was fascinated by how sophisticated and racy this pre-Code flick was. I knew immediately by its subject matter that it dated before 1934. It truly demonstrates that, if anything, that era had an even more realistic and wide-awake view of sexuality and power relations between men and women than our own, supposedly more liberated times. Indeed, I think this melodrama had a better grip on the actual nature of the beast than today’s passion-conquers-all ethos. Terrific performances by Warren William and Maureen O’Sullivan as the central characters are supported by a slew of very professional and masterful cast members. I will definitely purchase this to both watch again and use for teaching my Humanities courses.

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