Monday, January 21, 2008

Employees' Entrance

1933, US, directed by Roy Del Ruth

Part of a series of "pre-Code" films screened at the Harvard Film Archive (though as Richard Maltby suggests, that category is as much a critical invention as anything else; the Siren provided the link), Employees' Entrance features Warren William at his best, that is to say his worst, playing an utter cad who cuts a swathe through the female staff of the department store he manages, while callously dealing with long-time employees.

Unlike some other films of the Depression period, here it's not the boardroom that's a threat to the little man - the directors are portrayed as buffoons, when they appear at all - but rather the fellow who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps. For all that William's character is despicable, it's possible to come away from the film with the blunt moral that it's necessary to be ruthless to survive the economic turmoil of the period; certainly one of William's many conquests is prepared to mould her principles as needed in the circumstances (with a great one-liner to sum up her attitude).

There's a second strand at work, though, which tries to provide a more redemptive message, focused on one of the junior management types at the store and the new female employee who wins his heart. The film provides two contrasting conclusions, almost as if two different endings were shot and then simply combined here to provide radically different outcomes for the characters; the film doesn't seem to lend different moral weight to those outcomes, preferring rather to imply that the real world contains both the good and the not so good, each of whom will make a different set of choices.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States