When I watch older films I’m often struck by how many real jerks there are in these movies. I mean, classic movies are often thought of as coming from a kinder gentler time, but there are some nasty characters in many of these films. You know the kind I mean…Three Stooges movies are full of them. Today we’re going to look at an interesting little pre-code film that features a character who may be one of cinema’s all-time biggest jerks. It’s 1933’s “Employees’ Entrance.”
The film focuses on Kurt Anderson (Warren William), the general manager of the giant Franklin Monroe Department Store. Anderson runs the store with an iron fist. All that matters to him is the bottom line. Should an employee fail to meet his expectations, they are quickly fired, but only after being told how worthless they are in front of a large crowd. However, the store is extremely profitable and much of that is due to Anderson’s hard work. The store’s owner (Hale Hamilton), though not thrilled with Anderson as a person, recognizes his importance to the company and offers him a new contract. Anderson, of course, only accepts after dictating his own terms…mainly having his salary doubled.
One night, after dealing with everything from late suppliers to the mens room being out-of-order, Anderson walks the halls of the store. He hears piano music coming from the large model home display. Inside he finds the beautiful miss Madeline Walters (Loretta Young). She is in desperate need of a job and had decided to hide in the home so that she could be first in line to meet with Anderson about a job in the morning. She is surprised to learn she is now talking to Anderson. Lucky for her, he takes a bit of a liking to her. The two end up having dinner together and then returning to his place, where the camera fades to black as things get a bit steamy.
The next day, Madeline is hired as a model. Now, if you’re thinking that spending the night with a gorgeous young lady was going to soften up the old pole cat, you’d be wrong. He’s as nasty as ever. In fact, he even sets out to cause trouble for one of the board members who is always against him, Mr. Ross (Albert Gran). Anderson gets another one of the store’s models, Polly (Alice White) to start getting, shall we say “friendly” with Ross, presumably to set him up for a scandal later.
Meanwhile, Madeline begins to date a young up-and-coming executive at the store, Martin West (Wallace Ford). These are rough times at the store, what with a depression on, but Martin’s ideas to increase sales impress Mr. Anderson. He soon decides to make Martin his assistant. Anderson tries to mold Martin into the image of himself, and gives advice on how women just drag men down…and how marriage is completely out of the question for the successful man. Of course, Madeline is none too thrilled with this and desperately wants to marry. Martin soon decides they should, indeed, wed…but the couple decides to hide it from Anderson.
As time goes on, Martin and Madeline struggle to keep their secret. Anderson’s demands on Martin’s time begin to cause a rift in fabric ot this young marriage. After the couple argues at a company party, Martin storms off to get drunk and Madeline is left on her own. Who ends up finding her? Anderson, of course. Not knowing she and Martin are married, he gets her a bit tipsy and the two end up spending the night together again. All sorts of trouble are now in store as Martin deals with what happened and Anderson must fight a move by the board of directors to try and get rid of him.
This is one of the movies that really messes with you. At first, it feels like this is going to be about this nasty store manager who meets this bubbly girl in need of a job and slowly he turns into a teddy bear as the two fall in love. That’s not what happens at all! Warren William’s character is a jerk when we meet him, he’s a jerk throughout the film, and he’s an uber-jerk by the time it’s all over. In a strange way, it’s kind of refreshing. I don’t know that I’ve ever hated a character as much as I hated William’s Kurt Anderson…and I love him for it. It is a wonderful performance of a truly horrible character.
With Williams turning in performance of demonic proportions, it would be easy for the rest of the cast to be overshadowed…but not this group. Loretta Young is, quite simply, hypnotic in her role. Wallace Ford is also solid as Martin, though I do think he should’ve been a bit more unhinged in his confrontations with Williams at the film’s conclusion. In the supporting cast the real standout is Alice White as the sly little minx who will do just about anything if it means collecting a few extra bucks. She’s not quite as evil as Anderson is, but she does her dirty work in a much more playful manner.
Even with all the nastiness going on in this film, I did find myself laughing quite a bit. The script is clever and has several very funny moments of dialogue. It may feature one of the most unpleasant characters ever put on screen…but I think I’d actually call this film a comedy.