Precode Plunge From Way Up High
Skyscraper Souls (1932) Has 102 Floors of Deco and Decadence
When there are taller skyscrapers to be built, MGM will build them. We're shown the "
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Skyscraper Souls warns of how greed can ruin you. Worship of fast money from the stock market is strictly no-win, a Code preached even by pre-Codes. As banker Dwight manipulates the market upstairs, all of chumps below him put life saving into shares he plans to render worthless by closing bell. Movies continually told us we weren't smart enough to beat that system. They still do. Better to earn honest wage and spend modestly, like on Bijou tickets with the family. Had
William is at least a fittest among plutocrats, being an only Turkish bather not 50-100 pounds overweight. His party guests, aged roués preying on young flesh, are welcome (for us) victims of WW double-cross to come. We'll accept the latter's defile of Maureen O'Sullivan so long as corpulent and corrupt George Barbier doesn't get her, it being settled that one of them will. But what prospects has Maureen from her own working class, big-mouth and pushy Norman Foster forcing attentions with constant leap to wrong conclusion when Maureen parties at William's penthouse or lunches with him. Foster is no vote for the common man, Souls' end amounting to a sad one when O'Sullivan yields to him out of seeming sheer exhaustion. One precode breath-taker to note is her non-verbal and very visible response to a forced kiss from Foster part way into Skyscraper Souls, a startler that definitely wasn't scripted and I've seen no other (mainstream) movie duplicate.
Skyscraper concept was off Grand Hotel's rack, being multi-character and story-split among many. Adapted from a Faith Baldwin novel, there were changes, and probably improvement, made. I can see daily consult with Irving Thalberg as the script was cobbled, this a sort of project where tips from a mind like his could smooth wrinkles and make silk from burlap. As "all-star" successor to Grand Hotel, Skyscraper Souls is watered gin, but we'd not want others elbowing Warren William, whose vehicle this very much is, or should be, but for cutaways to crisis among less engaging Wallace Ford, Anita Page, Jean Hersholt, others. Page and O'Sullivan would pass each other in this Metro revolver door, Maureen just off the first Tarzan and bearer of a contract and build-up, as Page, thanks to refusal of Louis Mayer come-on (she said), was exit bound to poverty row. Skyscraper Souls would be her next-to-last for Leo. Luxury appointment of Skyscraper's setting made these monoliths seem like 30's equivalent of
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Did Warren William ever wish he could be Warren William? Cary Grant would later confess an envy of his own screen persona. William was ruthless and unstoppable, qualities 98% of men would covet. His characters were antidote to poverty and despair that was Depression's signature. William could beat back wolves of want and make it seem simple as a next raw deal he'll puts across. Watching him must have been opiate in 1932. It certainly is today with action and speech so severely proscribed by unwrit Production Code more limiting than that enforced from mid-'34. William is one old star who can reach across generations and make us wish we could be his kind of winner-whatever-the-means. In scared rabbit age that is now, he's something like superhuman. And yet the man was mere actor, meekly accepting of roles assigned and able to play even milquetoast if put to that task. He got and stayed married for whole of a screen career, none of pic perfidy rubbing off on private habits or inclination. The man obviously had firm grip of difference between fantasy and reality. Lesser thesps might have been straightaway swallowed up by sorts of screen work William engaged (and seemed so much to enjoy), not unlike a Ronald Colman made mad by overdose of Othello in A Double Life.