Warren William

Bedside (1934)

Bedside 1934Bob Brown (Warren William) is an x-ray technician who could finish medical school and become a real doctor, but his various vices keep standing in his way. Since he only has one year to go, Caroline (Jean Muir), a nurse and Bob’s girlfriend, offers to loan him the money for his last year of school and he agrees. But once again, he loses his tuition money in a game of cards during his trip to school. To cover up the truth, Bob makes an agreement with a doctor named Smith (David Landau), whose drug addiction prevents him from practicing medicine, to use his medical credentials in exchange for shots of morphine.

With phony credentials in hand, Bob sets up shop in New York City under the name J. Herbert Martell, but at first, he only serves as the public face of the practice and deals with the patients in a superficial way while he has a real doctor to actually treat the patients. Soon, Bob gets mixed up with a press agent who helps him build a clientele of celebrities and socialites. He also hires Caroline to work for him as a nurse, but that proves to be a mistake because it doesn’t take long for her to figure out Bob isn’t really a doctor.

I wanted to like Bedside a lot more than I did, but the subjects of medical malpractice and phony doctors are simply too unsettling for me to take lightly enough to enjoy the movie. I really, really hated the ending. I know this is a pre-code and a lot of unsavory characters still had happy endings during this era, but this one was just terrible. Spoiler alert: in the end, Bob’s incompetence nearly kills a woman, which causes Caroline to leave him, but then she takes him back after he’s promised to never practice medicine again and thanks him for giving up his career for her. Um, yes, how noble of him to give up his “career” of being a fraud who could potentially kill someone. All that being said, Warren William totally nailed being that total sleaze of a character, but that was pretty much the only value I saw in Bedside.

Pre-Code Essentials: Three on a Match (1932)

Three on a match 1932

Plot

Even from a very young age, Mary Keaton (Joan Blondell), Vivian Revere (Ann Dvorak), and Ruth Wescott (Bette Davis) were on completely different paths in life. They were classmates together as children; Mary the class bad girl, Vivian the popular one, and Ruth was one of the most studious.

Ten years after parting ways, they run into each other and meet for lunch. After a stint in reform school, Mary is now working as a showgirl. Ruth is a stenographer and Vivian married to powerful attorney Robert Kirkwood (Warren William). Although Vivian seems to have everything a person could ever want, she’s grown increasingly dissatisfied with her life. To shake up her life, Vivian takes her son on a trip, but on the ship, she gets mixed up with gambler Michael Loftus (Lyle Talbot). Before long, she’s descended into a life of drugs and alcohol, making it impossible for her to take good care of her son.

Mary is aware of Vivian’s hard partying and goes to see Robert to come up with a plan to at least get the child away from her. Once her son is away from her, Vivian and Robert divorce and Vivian hits rock bottom. When Vivian and Michael are desperate for money, Michael kidnaps Vivian’s son and holds him hostage.


My Thoughts

When I first saw Three on a Match, I was mostly watching it for Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart since those are two of my favorite movie stars. I know I’m not the only one who was drawn to this movie because of those two, but while many people watch for Bogart and Davis, they stay for Ann Dvorak. Out of all the major stars, Ann Dvorak is now the least widely remembered of the bunch, but she completely steals the movie from every single one of her costars. Bogart and Davis, at the time, were up-and-coming stars and weren’t being used to their full potential yet. Warren William and Joan Blondell are both good, but are totally eclipsed by Ann Dvorak’s mesmerizing presence.

Three on a Match is also a master class in efficient storytelling. It fits more into 63 minutes than most movies do in two hours.


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment

Herve (Humphrey Bogart) insinuating Vivian’s drug addiction.


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

One last “fallen woman” tale for this series of essential pre-codes. In some ways, Vivian’s story reminds me of several other “fallen woman” movies I’ve highlighted this month, but her story ends up feeling really unique. Vivian reminds me a bit of Temple Drake from The Story of Temple Drake in the sense that they were both women with a pretty high standing in society and when they fall, they fall very hard. They both slip into these incredibly dirty worlds that are anything but fun. Three on a Match does nothing to glorify the lifestyle Vivian and Michael end up leading. But the fact that Vivian is a mother and her lifestyle directly endangers her child adds a more shocking element to her story. Helen Faraday from Blonde Venus is another fallen woman who is also a mother, but she was much more concerned about her child’s welfare; Vivian was too strung out to properly care for her son. However, she does redeem herself in the end by making the ultimate sacrifice for her child.

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.

Pre-Code Essentials: Skyscraper Souls (1932)

Warren William Skyscraper Souls

Plot

There are only two things bank owner David Dwight (Warren William) cares about: women and his hundred story skyscraper in New York City. He’s married to Ella (Hedda Hopper), but as long as he keeps paying her bills, she doesn’t mind if he steps out. He’s been carrying on an long-term affair with his secretary Sarah (Verree Teasdale), who really wants to get married, but David has no interest in doing anything more than give her a trust fund. Instead, David is far more concerned with protecting his prized skyscraper from bank inspectors, who are after him for taking out a huge loan from his own bank to pay for the building.

To get the investigators off his back, David merges the bank with another one and conspires with the president of the other bank to inflate their bank’s stock, then sell it short, even though it would ruin the other investors. Meanwhile, Sarah’s secretary Lynn (Maureen O’Sullivan) has been dating bank teller Tom Shepard (Norman Foster), although she’d much rather be married to a rich man. After Lynn and Tom have a fight, Sarah talks to him and gives him a tip about investing in the bank, not realizing what David plans to do. Hoping to get enough money to marry Lynn, Tom buys the stock only to end up being just one of many people financially destroyed by David. Everyone is angry at David, except for Lynn, who David has been setting up to replace Sarah as his next girlfriend. But Sarah cares too much about Lynn to let David ruin Lynn the way he’s ruined everyone else.


My Thoughts

Before there was Michael Douglas in Wall Street and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, there was Warren William in Skyscraper Souls to serve as the cinematic poster boy for corporate greed. Considering what a contemptible person David Dwight is, it’s rather baffling that this is such an overlooked movie nowadays when people start talking about portrayals of corporate greed in film. Over 80 years later and I’d say Warren William remains the king of playing cold, ruthless characters. But as great brilliant as Warren William is in this, I also really love Verree Teasdale as Sarah. I love how in the end, as devoted as she was to David, she was even more devoted to and protective of Lynn. You just don’t see that kind of relationship often enough in movies.

The movie on the whole is very much worth watching. It has a bit of a Grand Hotel vibe to it, but on a smaller scale. It really deserves to get more credit for being a great movie in general, and not just for being a great pre-code.

And be sure to keep an eye out for a particular dress worn by Anita Page. Perhaps you might recognize it from another certain MGM hit from 1932…

Anita Page Joan Crawford Dress


The Definitive Pre-Code Moment


Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Murder, suicide, unscrupulous businessmen, prostitutes, cursing, womanizing…let’s just say that if we had a game of Pre-Code Bingo going, you could fill up your card really fast by watching Skyscraper Souls. Pretty much the only ways this movie could get more pre-code is if they had worked in some drug use, gay characters, or some kind of blasphemous statement.

The Match King (1932)

The Match King 1932Paul Kroll (Warren William) left his home in Sweden to make a name for himself in America.  When he settles in Chicago, he gets a job sweeping the sidewalks outside of a baseball stadium.  He still dreams of making something of himself though and isn’t above breaking the rules to make it happen.  When he gets one of his fellow sidewalk sweepers fired, he convinces the foreman (John Wray) to keep him on the payroll, but just so the two of them can split the salary he would have received.  Paul and his foreman get to be good friends, but while they’re raking in the money, Paul has been seducing Babe (Glenda Farrell), the foreman’s wife.

Paul has led his family in Sweden to believe he’s already become a successful business man, so when a match factory back home is in danger of closing, his family writes to him for help.  When he makes it back home, he scams a bank into giving him a loan, uses it to buy another match factory, and merges them.  He keeps buying match factories with ill-gotten loans until he owns all the match factories in Sweden.  Then he expands his match empire to other European countries and eventually to other continents.

While in Germany on business, Paul falls in love with actress Marta Molnar (Lili Damita).  Being in love is a terrible distraction for Paul and his business suffers because of it.  Even though he has enough money to leave the business, the business is too far in the red.  He just keeps on taking out loan after loan to keep everything afloat.  On top of that, he hears about a man who has invented an everlasting match that could put him out of business.  To eliminate the competition, he has the man committed to an asylum.

When the stock market collapses, everything falls apart. The only way Paul can get a loan is to use $50 million worth of forged bonds as collateral.  Marta has since gone to Hollywood to pursue a film career and when Paul returns to America, he finds out that she has fallen in love with another man.  It doesn’t take long for the bank to realize his bonds are phony and when they do, Paul knows he is finished and kills himself.

Did anyone play unscrupulous businessmen better than Warren William did during the pre-code era?  I don’t think so.  Between The Match King, Employees’ Entrance, and Skyscraper Souls, you’ve got the perfect trilogy of bad business ethics.  Warren William had the perfect balance of being hard yet smooth that made him perfect for that type of character.  Not only is Warren William as slick ever, the entire movie is slickly produced.  It’s one of those movies that grabs your attention right from the start and doesn’t let it go.  You really want to keep watching to see how far this guy will go and if he’s going to get away with it.

If it seems like Lili Damita was really drawing on Garbo for inspiration for her performance, there’s a good reason for that — Garbo was the first choice for the role, but they weren’t able to get her on loan.  It’s easy to dismiss Damita as being a poor man’s Garbo in The Match King, but for some reason I found her endearing for that exact reason.

My only real complaint about The Match King is that I wanted more Glenda Farrell.  But then again, I almost always want more Glenda Farrell.

Smarty (1934)

Smarty 1934Vicki Wallace (Joan Blondell) gets a real kick out of antagonizing her husband Tony (Warren William).  She does it all in good fun, but one night, she pushes Tony too far and he slaps her.  Vicki decides she wants a divorce, and gets her friend Vernon Thorpe (Edward Everett Horton) to handle it for her.  But before the ink on the divorce papers is dry, Vicki marries Vernon.

Vicki can’t resist teasing Vernon, either, and Vernon is starting to see why Tony smacked her.  If he doesn’t like something, Vicki makes a point to do it.  Vernon doesn’t like Vicki to wear revealing clothes so she buys a very revealing evening gown.  He doesn’t like her still being friendly with Tony, so of course she spends plenty of time with him.  When Vernon finally slaps her too, Vicki decides to get back together with Tony.

Considering its cast, I had fairly high hopes for Smarty.  Unfortunately, the plot just is odd and I had a hard time getting into it. It’s really too bad that I didn’t like the plot because the cast had great chemistry and still managed to put on a heck of a show.  I really wish I could see this exact same cast in a different movie because with better material, they could have made a pretty great comedy.

The Mouthpiece (1932)

As a prosecuting attorney, it’s Vincent Day’s (Warren William) job to see that guilty parties get the punishments they deserve.  But when Vincent mistakenly sends an innocent man to the electric chair, the guilt is too much for him to bear and he vows to never prosecute again and becomes a defense attorney instead.  He starts out defending the innocent and the satisfaction of helping them out is good and all, but then he discovers the real money is in defending the guilty.

Once Vincent starts working with the seedier crowd, business is booming.  He even has to hire Celia (Sidney Fox) as a second secretary to help out Miss Hickey (Aline MacMahon), his main secretary.  Celia is young, beautiful, and very naive.  Vincent is very attracted to her, but she only has eyes for her fiance Johnny (William Janney).  However, she admires the work Vincent does, thinking he’s honestly protecting innocent people.  One day in court, she watches in awe as he drinks a bottle of poison from the evidence to prove that it’s harmless.  Little does she know that afterward, Vincent went straight from the courthouse to a two-bit doctor to have his stomach pumped.

Later that night, Vincent has Celia come to his apartment under the guise of needing some work done, but he comes on to her instead and she turns him down.  Worst of all, she finds out the truth about what happened in court that day.  Completely disillusioned, she gives her two weeks notice, but refuses to be paid for it.  She doesn’t want to take any money gotten through such dirty ways.  Vincent has no problem meeting women, but Celia’s rejection really stings him badly.  On Celia’s last day, Vincent gives her a check for a hundred dollars and proves that he earned it through legitimate means.

Celia and Johnny are planning to get married right away, but then Johnny is framed for stealing some bonds and gets arrested.  Of course, Celia knows Vincent is the only one who can help him, but when she tries to find him, he’s gone off on a very long bender.  Miss Hickey sobers him up and he gets to work clearing Johnny’s name and getting the person who was really responsible for stealing the bonds arrested.  This move costs him the trust of the criminal underworld, but that doesn’t bother Vincent at all since he’s decided to go straight again.  As he leaves to see Cecile get married, he’s gunned down outside his office.

I have been very excited to see The Mouthpiece for a long time now, since I’d heard Cliff from Immortal Ephemera speak very highly of it.  I was not disappointed at all, it’s now my favorite Warren William movie.  This is exactly the kind of character Warren William is best known for playing and he plays Vincent to the hilt.  The Mouthpiece also has a phenomenal supporting cast.  Aileen MacMahon was a flawless choice to play Vincent’s loyal secretary and Sidney Fox sure had that wide-eyed and innocent act down pat.

The Mouthpiece also has a nice, fast pace and great dialogue, so it’s rather surprising that it’s not a more well-known movie.  I don’t see it on TCM very often, nor has it even been released by Warner Archive.  Let’s hope that changes, because The Mouthpiece deserves to be rediscovered.  Any fan of pre-codes would go crazy for it.