Like thousands of other people during the Great Depression, Madeline (Loretta Young) is desperate for a job and wants to get one at Monroe Department Store. With nowhere else to go, she spends a night hiding out in the store’s home department so she can apply first thing in the morning. That night, she is discovered by Kurt Anderson (Warren William), the store’s general manager. Desperate for a job, she lets him buy her dinner and spend the night with her.
Little does Madeline realize the kind of man Kurt is. He does get her the job, but he’s the coldest, most ruthless department store manager you’ll ever encounter. Employee loyalty means nothing to him and isn’t above firing a worker after 30 years if he isn’t satisfied with their work anymore. He doesn’t think twice about intentionally destroying a small company when they can’t make a shipment on time. If Kurt thinks you’re hindering the growth of the department store, you’re gone.
After starting her job, Madeline meets and falls in love with fellow store employee Martin (Wallace Ford). Martin is on his way up in the company and Kurt is grooming him to be his right-hand man. But Kurt wants that position to go to an unmarried man because he thinks women are a distraction, so when Kurt and Madeline are secretly married, he has to keep it a secret to keep his job. When the truth comes out during an argument between Madeline and Kurt, Martin is forced into the position of having to choose between his wife and his career.
If you want to see the finest example of Warren William playing the type of role he was most famous for playing, look no further than Employees’ Entrance. Kurt is completely appalling. He’s cold, he’s ruthless, he’s calculating, he has little sense of loyalty, and his views on women are horribly offensive. But Warren William plays him brilliantly. This is just Warren William doing what Warren William did best.
The Definitive Pre-Code Moment
Madeline allowing herself to be taken advantage of for the sake of getting a job.
When a colleague walks in and sees Kurt and Polly embracing in his office and exclaims, “What are you doing with that hussy?!”
Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code
Aside from the obvious points about Madeline sleeping her way into her job, Employees’ Entrance is another great example where at one point, you actually do want to like him. When I wrote about this movie a couple of years ago, I said that Kurt has no redeeming qualities, and I take that statement back. There is a part in the movie where he fights to protect thousands of store employees from losing their jobs. As horrible of a person Kurt is, Depression-era audiences had to at least give him a little bit of credit for that move.