Forbidden Pleasures: Employees’ Entrance (1933)
Employees’ Entrance (1933) stars the dashing and delightfully bad Warren William, Loretta Young and Wallace Ford. It’s one of the first pre-Code movies I ever owned, part of the Turner/MGM/UA “Forbidden Hollywood” series, and it’s a gem. The film’s principal characters are Kurt Anderson (William), the ruthless manager of a giant department store, who will do anything to succeed; Madeleine Walters (Young), who pays a steep price when she goes to work in Anderson’s store; and Martin West (Ford), who is hired as Anderson’s protégé and is secretly married to Madeleine. Based on a play by David Boehm (who was later nominated for an Oscar for the 1944 Spencer Tracy starrer A Guy Named Joe) and directed by Roy Del Ruth, Employees’ Entrance is, as my treasured VHS copy declares, “filled with forbidden pleasures!” Here are some of the reasons why I love this film:
Kurt Anderson is not a nice guy, but he sure is fun to watch. In one scene, he fires a 30-year employee of the store, in front a room full of co-workers, because the man is “too old, too set.” The distraught former employee later commits suicide. When Anderson is told, he observes, “When a man outlives his usefulness, he ought to jump out of a window. That’s the trouble with most men – they don’t realize when they’re through.” In another scene, after a store detective mistakenly detains a newspaper editor’s wife for theft, Anderson gives the woman a concert grand piano to compensate for her inconvenience, and tells the guard he’ll take ten dollars a week out of his salary until it’s paid for. When the man protests that it will take him the rest of his life to pay the debt, Anderson retorts, “I doubt if you’ll live that long. Get out.”
In typically scandalous pre-Code fashion, Kurt appears to be a benevolent benefactor when he hires the job-seeking Madeleine, but after treating her to a much-needed meal, he winds up seducing her. And later, when Madeleine gets drunk at a party following a fight with her husband, Kurt invites her to sleep it off in his room – and you can just guess what happens.
Despite Kurt’s womanizing ways, he appears to have a deep-seated contempt for the female species – female spouses in particular – and he doesn’t shy away from making these feelings apparent. He tells Martin that there’s “no time for wives in this job. Love ‘em and leave ‘em – get me?” Later he says to Madeleine, “What do you want me to do, marry you? Bunk! When you dames get your claws on a man, you don’t let him go ‘til you’ve dragged him to some altar and ruined his life.” And after finding out about Martin’s marriage, Kurt vehemently recommends: “Let this woman go. Turn her loose. A little money’ll do the trick. That’s all any of ‘em want.”
One of the movie’s co-stars is Alice White, who works as a model in the department store, but gets twice her salary when she’s hired by Kurt Anderson to blackmail the store’s blustering Associate Executive Vice President. Petite, blonde, and cute as a bug’s ear, with big doe eyes and Cupid’s bow lips, White (whose film career was torpedoed by a scandal the year this film was released) makes the most of her small role and steals every scene she’s in.
The film takes a wild curve into high-flying melodrama near the end when, in a matter of just a few minutes, Martin overhears a conversation that reveals the illicit dalliances between his boss and his wife, Madeleine drinks a vial of poison and collapses, and Martin shoots Kurt! There’s barely time to catch your breath!
What I love most about Employees’ Entrance is the fact that Kurt is such an unrepentant heel from beginning to end, and still winds up on top. For a while, it looks as if he is going to reform after his literal shot in the arm, but he doesn’t. And then it appears that he’ll finally get his comeuppance by getting voted out of the store by the Board of Directors, but at the eleventh hour, with scant moments to spare, he manages to save his position. He never pays for his misdeeds, never apologizes, and never changes.
And that’s pre-Code!