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Saturday, September 24, 2011


Favorites List --- Warren William and Employees' Entrance


Exhibit A For Print Ads Salacious As Precodes They Sold
Go whole hog enough on precode and you may wind up wanting to be Warren William's Kurt Anderson, or in the women's column, Ruth Chatterton's Female. Both are seductive role models for moderns yoked by social, sexual, and political proprieties re-writ since characters like these grazed on a (lots) more raffish culture. How many men bound in corporate or business chains would trade at least their souls to be an Employees' Entrance kind of boss? Current-day Mad Men is but 21st cent opportunity to quietly envy males rampant in what we're assured were bad old days thankfully past. Of course, Warren William makes even these look like lace doilies, for unlike Mad Men (and certainly us), there's never any hauling to account for Kurt Anderson, nor do we want him busted by Act Three rulebooks meekly applied since to preserve status quo. You need watch few movies or television today to recognize production codes still in place, even as same goes undocumented. It's one-of-a-kind disavowal of chalk-lines we walk that gives Employees' Entrance ongoing power to shock.


Recreate Kurt Anderson's Office From This Set Still --- Then Go Be Him!

I've seen Employees' Entrance enough times to know where best parts are. A hair trigger remote zipped me past "nice" characters Loretta Young and Wallace Ford to get back with precode oracle Warren William, whose best (dirty) work this has to be. It's challenging to speed-forward footage and stop on the dime of his face. Not an ideal way to watch movies, but once committed to memory, precode faves often repeat–play best shorn of virtue's valiant effort to overcome wickedness. I always exit Employees' Entrance right after WW drops the dog in his wastebasket --- who needs to know (or care) that less engaging Young and Ford got back together?


The Chiseled Cad --- They'd All Exit The Stage Eventually
 So where do we come off judging hard products of that hardest 30s school, depression society at large or 18 hour day classes taught at WB? A lot of Kurt Andersons must have graduated from the latter, for bastard that his characters tended to be, you don't get a sense of Warner scribes disapproving the Warren William persona any more than those of fast shufflers Lee Tracy, William Powell, Cagney ... how else but to deal off bottoms for a roof and meals? Smash Or Be Smashed was no more William's credo than that of many who figured gentility for weakness or at the least a straighter route to bread lines.



Two From Kurt Anderson's Harem: Loretta Young and Alice White


The Breakthrough --- WW Featured in WB's 1932 Product Annual
 College film study should begin with Employees' Entrance. It would surely open pores and disabuse assumption of what constituted old movies. Kids look at a Kurt Anderson and wonder, shouldn't he be punished?, as liberal art recipients are taught surely he must, for lustily engaging in every -ism they're conditioned to deplore. (Kurt but half-kiddingly suggests, Why don't you kill her?, when an Employees' colleague bemoans blackmailing trollop Alice White) Moderns imagine they know from bad-boy screen behavior, but look closer and there's always a reckoning for alpha dudes violating Unwritten Codes to take liberties far less egregious than William's. Mel Gibson divines innermost thoughts and learns What Women Want, but after brief middle-section of his enjoying it, we know he'll pay and dearly for invading that gender's private space. Was ever a leading man so broken and humbled, and in a comedy yet? (What Women Want's 3d act is as funny as Death Of A Salesman) Had such levelers been applied to Warren William's precode conduct, we'd not have an Employee's Entrance half so much fun.


Mock-Up a New York Skyline with a Penthouse View --- and Your Next Warren William Is Ready To Roll

It's known enough by now that William was best essaying business scoundrels and short-sellers, but who are ones (if any) that paced later his feral tracks? I enjoyed for a while Michael Douglas all Warren-ish at Me-decade scalawagging, and there was Alec Baldwin and James Woods (when cast right) to remind us of precode similars having once trod the earth. Trouble was these having to die or get jail time for perfidy from which Warren William often emerged scot-free. That unwritten Code again. Class-warring as practiced now was mirrored in William's prime. Inherited wealth is a badge of dishonor so far as Employees' Entrance portrays it. To have descended from James Monroe and Benjamin Franklin, plus unearned prosperity, amounts to three strikes and you're out. Self-made Kurt Anderson alone deserves his haul. Whatever ruthless else he does, Kurt won't live off the fat of estates, and that made him fundamentally OK to patrons also denied silver spoons.


Denton Ross' Office: Trophies, Golf Clubs, and Ancestor Portrait Reflect His Getting Rich The Easy Way --- Sure Cues For Patron Laughter and/or Disdain.

Then-published ads reveal clearest Employees' mission. They'd expose shop counters and office pools as so much brothel space, with Kurt Anderson A Man Who Can "Make" Or Break More Women Than Any Sultan. Note parentheses around "Make," its sexual connotation unmistakable. Youth got worldly fast just reading newspaper promotion in those days. Employees' Entrance was further opportunity for showmen to heat things up. Girls "Selling Their Souls" for a job "At Any Price" said it all, but as opposed to cries for reform a prisoner on chain gangs elicited, these plights apparently shared by working women were mere stuff of titillation. Has the depression brought about bargains in love? was less expression of indignation than helpful tip-off to store merchandise more alluring than mere piece goods.


The Stable Home and Wife Didn't Have To Be Faked --- Offscreen WW Was a Straight Arrow


Dog Lover William Often Posed With Pets
 The wolf's head that was Warren William had to be cleaved. PCA enforcement crowded him into corners WW could only farce his way out of. He and movies suddenly occupied a fairy-tale world. Plain diminishing was this actor in screwball mode after tours of precode duty, the chairman of Anything Goes' board donning lampshades on his head. William became a rakish uncle who's promised to stop telling ribald jokes around the children. Back as office lothario in 1939's Day-Time Wife, he's so gelded as to pose anything but a threat to Linda Darnell's secretary. This de-fanged wolf seemed less Warren William than Lester Matthews, just a face among mustachioed cast listings in support.

Code Enforcement Made William a Safe Date for Linda Darnell in 1939's Day-Time Wife

Contemplative at Home --- Was He Inventing Something at That Desk?
Most of us saw William first in The Wolf Man. By then, he was Universal's idea of past-glory (and got cheap) marquee adornment, someone to confer class upon a disreputable monster movie. WW got shoes muddy in U westerns where his credit read beneath lighter weights Franchot Tone and Bruce Cabot, less a shark than a dandy in period dress. The Lone Wolf series meant steady pay packets for OK mysteries, made so purely for his starring. Offscreen Warren William invented (useful) things and kept wire terriers. He was probably more of a renaissance man than we'll ever appreciate. A wife and stable home life wouldn't have seemed in the cards, but there his was, proof again that screen images are purest illusion. Health problems that took William at age 53 (in 1948) must have been lingering, for he seemed prematurely aged final appearing in The Private Affairs Of Bel-Ami, where George Sanders applies a verbal rapier to this weakened opponent who in his prime would have been more than a match, even for GS.

18 Comments:

Anonymous Cliff Aliperti said...

Fantastic piece on my favorite star revolving around what's also my favorite Warren William title. So glad that TCM recently aired it, really wish Warner Archives would release it.

If Warren William played Don Draper there'd be a Higgins jumping out a window in every Mad Men episode!

Surprised you didn't mention Strange Illusion, not a personal favorite here, but Warren does get to be bad, really bad, once more.

Ruth Chatterton's great in Female, though I don't think she comes within a whiff of William's perfect combination of pig and shark.

Thanks for such an entertaining piece, really loved this post!

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Grand Old Movies said...

Utterly agree w/your point--teach Employee's Entrance in film classes, let 'em see how freewheeling movies once were. Great post about a great cad, the king of pre-Code, Warren William. Also loved him in Skyscraper Souls, The Mind Reader, and The Mouthpiece (another must-see for the film studies crowd). Watching WW in those pre-Codes, you know that somewhere in celluloid it'll always be 1932.

8:58 PM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

Have you seen Warren William in GOODBYE AGAIN from '33? A genuinely unfettered comedy performance - bouncing back and forth between Joan Blondell and Genevieve Tobin. I'd say he's at his most accomplished here, yet so startlingly loose and spontaneous as to make the whole thing look off-the-cuff. In the best possible way. TCM shows it sometime and it's definitely worth catching. The picture spawned a dud remake in '41(retitled HONEYMOON FOR THREE) with George Brent quietly treading water in the role.

9:32 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

Also enjoyed him as Perry Mason, a happy and unapologetic shyster -- protecting the innocent seemed like an unintended side effect of making money. You assumed he and Della Street had already honeymooned long before one of the movies married them off.

Saw an interview with Della of the TV series, recalling that Earle Stanley Gardner would personally veto things like her sitting on the boss's desk. And of course Raymond Burr was a rock of respectability as Mason. Did Gardner have the heft to pressure for less subversive stars and scripts after WW?

12:44 AM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

I used to think of William as a poor man's John Barrymore. But the more I saw of him, the more I realized William's pre-code performances were terrific in their own right. I wonder if Warners signed him when Barrymore left for Metro, just to have a great profile on hand.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Yeah, terrific post! As you and others suggest, you can't talk pre-code without talkin' Warren William. But I also share DBenson's fondness for WW as Perry Mason. Apparently Gardner had little control over the Warners' adaptations and hated them. Curious, since William was far closer to the Mason of the novels than the TV version, as least in the first two films. Re-read any of the Perry Mason mysteries from the thirties or early forties, and it's hard not to imagine WW as the corner-cutting lawyer (and pretty difficult to picture Raymond Burr) spouting the sly, self admiring monologues the character was originally fond of! Yet the author did have control over the show, and Burr was his personal choice! As to the Barrymore connection, it also seemed post-code his role was as William Powell runner-up. Never the less, a great star.

4:36 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer speaks to the greatness and nobility of Kurt Anderson ...


As usual, you've hit the nail right on the head. Kurt Anderson may seem utterly ruthless, but he gets away with it because that's precisely what he needed to be in the craziness of the Great Depression. His strength and intelligence, his shrewdness and cunning, are simply what once were thought to be masculine attributes, writ large now because he had to employ them with no concessions to pretty ideas of morality, if he was to preserve his store as a bastion amidst the chaos. Smash or be smashed! That was the temper of the times. Men searching desperately for work, when there was no work, wanted to be like Kurt Anderson, but more than that, women wanted such a man in their lives, because they knew that he could take care of them, if he wanted to. That was the essence of his allure for them. Today, it might be a different story, but I wonder how many women, facing the exhaustion and compromises inherent in modern corporate life, would prefer to keep home and hearth, if they could partner with a man of such power and potential nobility?

5:45 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

Thanks for an incisive profile of someone who may well be titled "Mr. Pre-Code"! He's a lot of fun to watch, and he's certainly a master of this genre.

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

William is my favorite 1930s personality, bar none. Many, many thanks!

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,

Enjoyed your piece so much I "booked"
Employees Entrance into my home theatre later in October---and linked all invitees to your site!

Fantastic work! Pre-codes give us a peek of how desperate and wicked a society under stress can get---kind of like today!

Evan in Toledo

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Bill Luton said...

Love the art at the top of the page from the original one-sheet. Had it once and so much wish I still did! I too enjoyed WW as Perry Mason (I'd love to see those 4 released on DVD). Also favorites The Mouthpiece & Golddiggers of 1933.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

I agree with what Dave K said about Warren Williams' portrayal of Perry Mason.

When I first saw his Mason portrayal I was shocked at how different his portrayal was from Raymond Burr's. I thought it was a complete betrayal of the character.

Then I read many of the early Perry Mason novels, and holy cow, that's how Warren William portrayed him. Very flirtatious with Della Street and not averse to bending the law to prove his client's innocence.

It was only later that Perry Mason became more stolid, but those early novels show Perry Mason being quite the free-wheeling attorney - a Warren William type as it were.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...

John,

While you and I generally agree on most things cinematic, I really must take issue with your inference that WW was "watered down" goods in "Daytime Wife". In having watched it several-times recently, I was mightily-impressed by his very presence and he tends to give the film a bit of an edge that it badly needs. Oh sure, it's several-light years away from the Warners days, but so as we know, were audience expectations (by then) and the whole industry itself. But in every single scene I find myself watching Warren -- and bucking the youthful glow of nominal-stars Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, that says a lot!

Best, R.J.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

You're right..The Wolf Man is the first film I saw Warren William in,where hes practically camouflaged among the likes of Patrick Knowles and Ralph Bellamy ..

1:46 AM  
Blogger Linwood said...

The Pre-code Loretta Young, in Employee's Entrance, was also something of surprise to me. She clearly knows what she's getting into after their first encounter and she takes her position modeling in the dress department without regret or guilt. Just business as usual during the Great Depression.

3:59 AM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

I saw the film for the first time recently and it was my first exposure to Alice White. I think she was great, sort of a Joan Blondell without the vulnerability. I'm going to look for her in other films.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Jeff Cohen has a feature about Alice White on his blog, including some interview quotes:

http://vitaphone.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-01-14T20%3A30%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=1

5:10 PM  
Blogger mndean said...

I'll echo the recommendation for Goodbye Again, with one caveat. TCM doesn't show it that often, so see it when you can. It may not come around again for some years.

11:16 PM  

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