Wallace Ford

Pre-Code Essentials: Employees’ Entrance (1933)

Employees Entrance Loretta Young Warren William

Plot

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.


My Thoughts

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.

Possessed (1931)

Possessed 1931 Joan Crawford Clark GableMarian Martin (Joan Crawford) is an unrepentant gold digger.  She’s a factory worker from Erie, Pennsylvania, but she would love to be a high society dame.  Her boyfriend Al Manning (Wallace Ford) is a fellow working class guy and is content to stay that way. But Marian knows her only real chance at being a wealthy woman is to marry for money.  On her way home from work one day, she meets the wealthy Wally Stuart (Richard Gallagher) when he passes by on a train.  Wally is drunk at the time and tells Marian to look him up if she’s ever in New York.  When Al finds out that Marian was spending time with another man, he’s livid and his reaction is enough to drive Marian straight to New York.

Marian arrives in New York and goes straight to Wally’s apartment, but he doesn’t remember her.  However, he does give her some advice on meeting rich men.  And as luck would have it, she catches the eye of Wally’s friend Mark Whitney (Clark Gable).  Mark is divorced and doesn’t want to re-marry because he’s afraid of being hurt again.  However, he does turn Marian into a kept woman and they carry on an affair for three years.  He even has her pose as Mrs. Moreland, a rich divorcee, to make their arrangement appear more respectable.

While Marian has been in New York with Mark, Al has been back in Erie starting his own concrete company.  His business is doing well and when he comes to New York on business, he visits Marian and proposes to her, not knowing about her relationship with Mark.  She turns him down, but when he finds out she knows Mark Whitney, he uses her as a connection to get a meeting with Mark.  However, Mark’s attitude toward marriage has changed now that he’s considering running for governor, despite the damage it could do to his campaign.  Not wanting to hurt Mark’s campaign, Marian breaks it off with him to marry Al instead.  But when Al finds out about her affair with Mark, he wants nothing to do with her unless she uses her influence with Mark to help him seal that business deal.  Marian leaves Al, but will Mark take her back?

Joan Crawford and Clark Gable starred in eight movies together and Possessed is one of the best of the bunch.  Not only is their chemistry completely on point, Possessed is a perfect example of why I’m so fond of many movies from the pre-code era.  It’s full of the boundary-pushing material that makes the era so interesting to many people.  The story is very efficiently told;  Possessed clocks in at a whopping 76 minutes and not a minute of it is wasted.  Plain and simple, it’s a very sharp little movie.

Employees’ Entrance (1933)

Employees' Entrance 1933 Warren William Loretta YoungFor Kurt Anderson (Warren William), Franklin Monroe department store is his life.  He’s the manager and doesn’t think twice about dismissing anyone he thinks isn’t helping the store reach its full potential, no matter how damaging it is to the other person.  When an up-and-coming clothing company can’t deliver a shipment on time, Kurt cancels the order and sues them for damages, knowing it would completely wipe out the company.  When he decides a long-time employee is no longer useful, he fires him and the employee ends up throwing himself out of a window.  None of these things faze Kurt at all, he figures they aren’t his problem.

Before leaving one night after closing, Kurt finds a young woman named Madeline (Loretta Young) trying to spend the night in the furniture section.  She desperately wants a job in the store and although she has a place to stay, the store’s furniture displays are much nicer.  Kurt takes her out for dinner and promises to give her a job.  But don’t think that Kurt has a soft side, he later takes advantage of her.  She gets a job as a model in the womens’ department and meets and falls in love with Martin West (Wallace Ford), who also works in the store, but works under Kurt.   Martin suddenly finds himself on the rise in company after he makes some good suggestions about how to increase sales and Kurt makes him his assistant.  By now, he and Madeline want to get married, but his new job is very demanding and Kurt warns him right off that this is not a job suitable for married men.  Despite Kurt’s warning, Martin and Madeline get married anyway but keep it  a secret from Kurt.

Sure enough, it turns out that Kurt was right.  Martin is always working late and it puts a strain on his relationship with Madeline.  The two of them end up having a huge fight one night at a company party and Martin gets so drunk that he passes out and spends the night in the store.  As for Madeline, she runs into Kurt and the two of them end up spending the night together.  Unaware that she’s married, he asks her out again the next day, so she finally admits that she’s married to Martin.  Wanting to break them up, he tries bribing fellow salesgirl Polly Dale (Alice White) to seduce Martin away from Madeline, but she refuses.  Later, he makes sure that Martin finds out that Madeline has slept with him.  Devastated, Madeline tries to kill herself and Martin goes to see Kurt, ready to kill him.  See, Kurt has gotten into some trouble with the board of directors and with his job now on the line, Kurt welcomes the idea of being shot and even gives Martin the gun.  Martin does shoot him, but doesn’t seriously hurt him.  With Kurt on the mend and once his job has been secured again, Martin and Madeline decide it’s for the best for them to find jobs elsewhere.

Employees’ Entrance is pretty fascinating stuff.  It’s not so much that the story is super compelling, but watching Kurt is kind of like watching a trainwreck.  I don’t mean that Warren William did a lousy job, actually he was excellent in it, I mean that Kurt was such an incredible jerk that I couldn’t stop watching because I just had to see what horrible thing he was going to do next.  And the most interesting thing about Employees’ Entrance is that it doesn’t try to redeem Kurt in any way, shape, or form.  He doesn’t have any big revelations about how awful he was, he doesn’t try to better himself.  No, instead he just keeps on being the same old heel he always was with zero redeeming qualities.  It’s not often that you see a character so very unapologetically heartless as Kurt Anderson.

Beast of the City (1932)

Jim Fitzpatrick (Walter Huston) seems to be living the all-American dream life.  He’s got a wife, children, a nice home, a good job as a police officer, and a close relationship with his brother and fellow cop Ed (Wallace Ford).  Jim takes his job very seriously, especially when it comes to putting an end to organized crime.  When the bodies of some gangsters are found, Jim immediately suspects that notorious gangster Sam Belmonte (Jean Hersholt) is the one responsible.  Sam gets off the hook easily that time, but Jim is determined to come down on him hard.

Jim’s dedication eventually ends up working against him, though, and it gets him transferred to a smaller, quieter district.  Ed, however, continues to keep tabs on Belmonte and one night goes to question Daisy Stevens (Jean Harlow), Belmonte’s stenographer.  She tells Ed that she’s through with Belmonte and the two of them spend the evening getting drunk together and begin having an affair.  Meanwhile, Jim proves to be such a success at his new precinct when he stops a bank robber that he is made chief of police.  Back at his old precinct, Jim’s top priority is breaking up organized crime and starts shutting down speakeasies left and right.  However, he is also determined to not give any officers any unfair advantages.  When Ed asks for a promotion so he could have more money to take Daisy out with, Jim turns him down.  Later that night, he goes out with Daisy and they end up running into Belmonte.  Belmonte gives Ed the chance to earn some extra money by fixing it so he can get his illegal goods into town without getting caught.

The next day, Jim tells Ed that he will be in charge of escorting a large transport of cash.  When Ed tells Daisy about this, she tells one of Belmotne’s associates and they plan to steal the truck.  Daisy tells Ed about the plan and convinces him to go along with it.  The big heist goes down, but unbeknownst to Ed, the truck has been followed by two other officers who chase the thieves down.  When questioned at the station, one of the thieves admits that Ed was in on it, too.  The case goes to trial, and shockingly, all who were involved are found not guilty.  Ed desperately wants to rebuild his relationship with Jim and sever all ties with Belmonte.  Knowing that Belmonte and his gang are all out celebrating their court victory, Ed agrees to go confront Belmonte with Jim and several police officers backing them up.  Of course, Belmonte isn’t willing to go down without a fight and insists on going out in a hail of gunfire.

Beast of the City is a great crime movie.  Super gritty and raw with excellent performances all around (be sure to keep an eye out for a very young Mickey Rooney in a small part as one of Jim’s children).  It’s kind of like The Public Enemy, but from the cops’ perspective.  With so much grit and violence, y0u might think this was a Warner Brothers film, but surprisingly, it was produced by MGM.  That big shoot-out scene at the end of the film was definitely not something you would typically expect of a 1930s MGM film.  Especially since Irving Thalberg didn’t work on it and he was the one who pushed through a lot of MGM’s edgier films during that era.  This movie actually came about when Louis B. Mayer wanted to do a movie that created a positive image of police officers, but then it ended up being so violent that he refused to let it be the top feature in double features, it could only be the second film.  But Beast of the City is definitely top-feature quality.

I picked this one to write about for The Scarlett Olive’s For The Boys blogathon because it’s the complete antithesis of the 1930s MGM women’s picture.  When MGM wanted to appeal to women, they put Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, or Greta Garbo in the lead.  They’d have Adrian come up with some fabulous gowns and have some handsome leading man for them to wind up with.  The last way those movies would end is with a violent bloodbath.  Beast of the City doesn’t really have any female characters for women moviegoers to identify with.  Jean Harlow’s character isn’t exactly the kind of person women would be rooting for.  It doesn’t have a love story, it’s ultimately about the relationship between two brothers.  These aren’t even the kind of men that women would sit in the audience and swoon over.  Although I think women could easily enjoy it, I certainly did, it’s pretty clear that they weren’t expecting women to be lining up for it in 1932.

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