Roy Del Ruth

Beauty and the Boss (1932)

Bank president Baron Josef von Ullrich (Warren William), like so many men, very much appreciates a beautiful woman.  But there’s just one place he doesn’t want to see them — in his office.  He keeps his bank running like a well-oiled machine and he’s afraid having a beautiful woman as his secretary would be too distracting.  So when he decides that it’s too hard to keep his mind on work with Olive (Mary Doran) as his secretary, he fires her, but starts seeing her outside of work.

When Susie Sachs (Marian Marsh) hears that Josef needs a new secretary, she finagles her way into seeing him without an appointment.  She very desperately needs the job and at first, Josef tries to get rid of her, but she refuses to go and eventually ends up winning him over.  She shows him just how hard she can work and most importantly, she’s very plain looking, so Josef gladly hires her.

Susie proves to be the perfect secretary, but when she accompanies Josef to Paris to take care of some business, she spends a lot of time keeping Josef’s many admirers at bay.  Not because he doesn’t want to see them all, but because she’s fallen in love with Josef.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have anything more than a professional interest in her. One of the ladies she sent away was Olive and when Josef finds out about that, he sends Susie over to Olive’s apartment with some flowers to make up for it. While at Olive’s, Olive tells Susie that men will never notice her as long as she acts more like a machine than a woman.

Susie realizes that if she ever wants to get Josef’s attention, she needs to take Olive’s advice and reinvent herself. She gets herself a beautiful evening gown, a little bit of perfume, has her hair styled nicely, and suddenly, she’s a whole new woman with a whole new outlook on life.  Naturally, Josef can’t help but notice the change in her…and he likes it!

When you think of Warren William movies, you don’t typically think of delightful romantic comedies, but that’s exactly what you get with Beauty and the Boss.  I hadn’t realized going into this movie that it was supposed to be a comedy, so I was in for a very pleasant surprise. It’s another one of those great short-but-sweet overlooked pre-code gems that I love finding.

I love a classic, totally reprehensible Warren William cad, but it was refreshing to see him in something more lighthearted for a change.  Josef is still a bit of a cad, but he’s a far more likeable cad than we see in Employees’ Entrance or Skyscraper Souls. Marian Marsh and Mary Doran were both very memorable as well.  Some of Marian Marsh’s rapidfire line deliveries truly have to be heard to be believed. The way she rattles off some of her lines could easily give Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday a run for her money.

The Mind Reader (1933)

Chandra (Warren William) and his friend Frank (Allen Jenkins) have tried their hands at just about every carnival scam there is and haven’t had much luck with any of them.  But then they realize where the real money is — fortune telling.  Chandra becomes Chandra the Great, and while he’s performing, Frank hides under the stage and uses a secret microphone to feed questions from the audience to Chandra. Frank also uses the shows as a chance to steal purses from some of the audience members.

After a show one night, the owner of a stolen purse comes back with her niece Sylvia (Constance Cummings) to look for it.  Chandra is very attracted to Sylvia, so he tries to impress her by pretending to have a “vision” of exactly where the purse is.  Chandra and Sylvia start seeing each other and he swears up and down that he’s really in it to help other people.  Even when he hires her to be his secretary, he manages to keep his real motives hidden from her for a while.  Even when she does start to figure it out, he convinces her the act is really just an advertisement for his ability to help people.

Chandra and Sylvia get married, but he isn’t able to keep up his charade for much longer.  When a person commits suicide after getting some bad advice from Chandra, Sylvia begs him to give it  up and go straight.  He becomes a door-t0-door salesman and Frank becomes a chauffeur, but then the two of them come up with a new scheme.  Frank has the dirt on all the wealthy men in town and knows exactly when they’re cheating on their wives.  Chandra poses as a psychic again, Dr. Munro this time, and sells his services to their wives to tell them when their husbands are with their other women.  It doesn’t take long for the unfaithful husbands to start getting angry with Dr. Munro, and when one comes looking for revenge, Chandra shoots the man in self-defense and flees, inadvertently leaving Sylvia to take the fall for him.

The Mind Reader is a pretty enjoyable Warren William vehicle, but not one of his best from the pre-code era.  Warren William is very good in it and Chandra is very much the unethical heel he is best known for playing, but Chandra has more redeeming qualities than Williams’ characters in things like Employees’ Entrance or Skyscraper Souls.  It’s a rather unusual pre-code, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think I would have liked the movie more if the ending weren’t so forced.

I’ve got to hand it to The Mind Reader, though, for containing what has got to be the most canted angle shots I have ever seen in one movie.  The canted angles represent how crooked Chandra and Frank were, and this movie has more canted angles than an episode of Batman.

All in all, it isn’t a bad movie, but if you’re looking for a definitive pre-code Warren William movie, I’d definitely recommend Skyscraper Souls or Employees’ Entrance over The Mind Reader.

Taxi! (1932)

The taxi business can get pretty cutthroat in New York City.  Pop Riley (Guy Kibbee) is an independent cabbie who for the past six years has laid claim to a choice corner outside of the restaurant where his daughter Sue (Loretta Yong) works as a waitress.  When rival Consolidated Cab Company decides they want his spot, they’re willing to stop at nothing to get their way.  First they try telling him to go someplace else.  Then while Pop is having lunch one day, someone working for Consolidated intentionally drives a truck into Pop’s cab, completely demolishing it.  Pop is so furious that he pulls out a gun and shoots and kills the person responsible for it.  He is sentenced to ten years in prison, but soon becomes ill and dies.

One cabby who isn’t willing to be pushed around by Consolidated is Matt Nolan (James Cagney).  He becomes a leader to the other independent cabbies and tries to rally them to overthrow Consolidated.  Although Sue hates Consolidated for what they did to her father, she can’t stand violence anymore and tries to stop them.  At first, Matt is upset that she isn’t helping them, but since she’s pretty, he decides to ask her out on a date anyway.  Although Sue loves Matt, the only thing she can’t stand about him is his awful temper.  They can’t go anywhere without him trying to start a fight with somebody.

After Matt and Sue get married, they go out to a nightclub with some friends and Matt’s brother Danny to celebrate.  As it turns out, Buck Gerard, head of Consolidated, is also at the same club with his girlfriend Marie.  Buck is pretty drunk and tries to start trouble with Matt.  Marie also doesn’t like it when Buck tries to start fights, so she pulls Sue aside and tells her to just ignore Buck to avoid problems.  But when Buck questions whether or not their wedding was a shotgun wedding, Matt can’t resist punching him.  Danny tries to get Matt away, but Buck pulls a knife out and accidentally stabs Danny to death.  Now Matt really wants revenge.  Marie has been hiding Buck and has found a way for him to sneak down to South America, but needs money to get him there.  Since she knows Sue wouldn’t want Matt to kill Buck and be sent to prison, she asks her for it.  Sue gives her the money, taking it from the money Matt was saving to buy Danny a headstone.  But when Matt’s friend spots Marie talking to Sue and finds out about the money, he storms over to Buck’s apartment to settle the score before he can get on the train to South America.

Taxi! isn’t bad, but isn’t particularly memorable either.  My biggest complaint about it movie is that I just don’t understand why Sue wouldn’t call the police when she knows exactly where the man who killed her father and husband’s brother is hiding.  But if you’re a big James Cagney fan, it’s worth seeing.  This movie was released a little less than a year after The Public Enemy had made Cagney a star and Taxi! is definitely pure Cagney.  Not even five minutes into the movie and he’s already beating somebody up.  Not only do we get to see Cagney the tough guy, it also gives us a glimpse at Cagney the dancer, which we got to see more of later in Footlight Parade and Yankee Doodle Dandy.  There’s also an interesting scene where Cagney speaks Yiddish to a passenger.  So really, this is a showcase for a lot of different sides of James Cagney.  Loretta Young isn’t bad in it, either, but she actually wasn’t Warner Bros.’ first choice for the part of sue.  When I was looking for a picture to use for this post, I stumbled across an old Carole & Co. post that talks about how they originally wanted Carole Lombard for the part.  I would have loved to have seen Carole and Cagney together, but I liked him and Loretta well enough.