#643) Employees’ Entrance (1933)
OR “Not My Department”
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Written by Robert Presnell Sr. Based on a play by David Boehm.
Class of 2019
The Plot: New York’s monumental Monroe department store is losing revenue as the Great Depression takes it toll. Kurt Anderson (Warren William) is brought in as the store’s new general manager, and while Monroe makes its biggest profits in years, Anderson’s management style is ruthless; firing anyone who disagrees with him and using his female employees as sex objects. Anderson seduces young Madeline Walters (Loretta Young) and hires her as a dress model in the ladies’ department. Madeline begins a whirlwind romance with Martin West (Wallace Ford), Anderson’s promising young assistant, and the two marry in secret, not wanting Anderson to learn about their relationship for fear it will damage their careers. But of course Anderson finds out, and gets to work trying to break up the couple for his benefit. If you think you can guess the ending, remember this is pre-Code and guess again.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “a superb pre-Production Code film” and “one of the studio’s best” features of the 1930s. Warren William’s “devastating” and “superb” performance is also highlighted.
But Does It Really?: We have a rarity: I don’t think I can justify having “Employees’ Entrance” on the NFR. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie, but it lacks the unique standing I’m looking for on a list of culturally significant films. We’ve already got racy pre-Code movies on the list (see “Baby Face“) and plenty of films that encapsulate Depression-era living (see “Wild Boys of the Road“). “Employees’ Entrance” is one of your “TCM at 10am on a Wednesday” kinda movies; an enjoyable watch, but not ready for primetime. I can’t help but think that this slot could have gone to another movie.
Everybody Gets One: Roy Del Ruth started his career as a writer for Mack Sennett before pivoting to directing. He doesn’t have a lot of classics on the resume, but he did direct the first film adaptation of “The Maltese Falcon” a full decade before John Huston took a stab at it. Loretta Young started out in silent movies before successfully making the transition to sound, and was already an established ingenue at Warner Bros. when “Employee’s Entrance” came around. Young was 19 when she filmed this! She’s so…not old!
Wow, That’s Dated: First and foremost: department stores. If Monroe was still around today that building would be a multiplex, two escapes rooms and a Boba tea shop. Also dated, the profession of department store dress model. Had mannequins not been invented yet?
Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar love for “Employees’ Entrance”. Warner Bros.’ major contenders that year were “42nd Street” and “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang“.
- Weirdly enough I can’t find anything about the original play “Employees’ Entrance” is based on. It never played Broadway, and there’s no record of it being performed anywhere. Any leads?
- Warren William may be the most ’30s man who ever lived, with his slicked back hair, pencil mustache, and double-breasted suit. Also he looks and sounds like Christopher Plummer as John Barrymore.
- I know this movie goes out of its way to make Anderson as unscrupulous as possible, but did you have to name him Kurt? A bit on the nose, don’t you think?
- Madeline is living in the department store? When did this become “Evening Primrose”?
- Tops on the list of this movie’s pre-Code insinuations: Anderson, seeing Polly; “Oh it’s you. I didn’t know you with all your clothes on.” Whoa.
- This apparently was a comeback vehicle of sorts for Alice White, who had found success in the late ’20s as a flapper-type. With her short bob and unapologetic sex appeal, White’s Polly is like a live-action Betty Boop (and no I don’t mean Helen Kane). Sadly, shortly after this film’s release, Alice White was caught up in a public scandal involving her fiancé Sy Bartlett and former lover John Warburton, and her career never recovered.
- I’m gonna go ahead and assume that Monroe doesn’t have an HR department. Either that or Anderson is the HR department, just moving over to another desk when people want to file a complaint.
- Say what you will about Anderson, but instead of laying off a bunch of employees, he makes the executives (and himself) take a pay cut. The same could not necessarily be said for other organizations during COVID.
- According to the characters in this movie, the word “employee” is pronounced “EM-ploy-YAY”, and “brassieres” is pronounced “BRAH-see-ERS”. Have I been saying them wrong this whole time?
- Wait, Madeline and Martin are getting married? They met like 20 minutes ago. Also, I correctly called that the man playing the priest is a real priest and not an actor. The Rev. Dr. Neal Dodd was an L.A. based priest who played various ministers, reverends, and justices of the peace in dozens of Hollywood movies for over 30 years. He appears in at least three other NFR titles: “It Happened One Night“, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington“, and “The Killers“.
- I’m enjoying this movie’s comic interludes on the department floor. “Young lady, where’s the basement?” “On the 12th floor, madam.” Somebody in the Warner Bros. writing pool worked retail. Points deducted, however, for the cutaway involving a stereotypical Jewish customer who refuses to buy a pigskin football. They can’t all be winners.
- Classic Movie Cliché #18: Drunks in a movie singing “Sweet Adeline” (we will also accept “How Dry I Am” as an alternate).
- Here’s your big pre-Code moment: When Madeline is passed out at the party, Anderson closes the door, turns off the lights, and a fade to black implies everything that happens next. In case you can’t figure it out, Madeline says later she feels like “someone you pick up off the streets”.
- [Spoilers] Wow this all escalated quickly. Warren William receives the 1933 Clark Gable prize for best reaction to being shot: “You can’t even shoot straight, can you?”
- In addition to salacious dialogue throughout the film, “Employees’ Entrance” ends with another pre-Code staple: no punishment for the villain. You think Anderson is about to get his comeuppance and be voted out by the board, but at the last minute he’s saved, and does not grow or change from this experience. Adding insult to injury (or vice versa), the movie ends with him throwing an actual real-life dog into a wastebasket. That’s the worst offense of the whole movie!
- “Employees’ Entrance” opened in August 1933…and I have no information on how it did. I assume as a B picture (released through the Warner Bros.’ subsidiary First National Pictures) it didn’t set the box office on fire. I know that it started airing on local TV stations in the mid-50s, so at least it has that going for it.
- Roy Del Ruth continued to direct movies for the next 25 years. Among his later films were “Broadway Melody of 1938” (in which Judy Garland sings “(Dear Mr. Gable) You Made Me Love You”), and “The Babe Ruth Story”, a biopic so bad even Del Ruth didn’t like it.
- Both this film’s screenwriter and original author would go on to receive Oscar nominations for their later screenplays: Robert Presnell Sr. for “Meet John Doe” and David Boehm for “A Guy Named Joe”.
- Warren William continued his leading man streak throughout the 1930s (playing opposite Claudette Colbert in both “Imitation of Life” and “Cleopatra”) though he never matched his early ’30s run as “King of Pre-Code”. Fun Fact: William was the first actor to play Perry Mason, portraying the lawyer in four separate films.
- The actor with the biggest post-“Employees’ Entrance” career was definitely Loretta Young. In the ensuing decades, Young became a big movie star, an Oscar winner for her performance in “The Farmer’s Daughter”, and eventually a TV star with the long-running “Loretta Young Show”.