This picture can be summed up in one sentence: Kurt Anderson is a bastard.
His job as head of the Franklin-Monroe Department Store shows him to be a heartless taskmaster, planning to keep his store on top regardless of what –or who—comes his way. In this case, it’s Madeline (Loretta Young), whom he comes across camping out in his department store, waiting for an interview. He takes an instant liking to the girl, and with her sweet smile and giant, liquid eyes, who wouldn’t? She flirts with him, and suddenly his icy demeanour appears to melt…but the next day, he’s back to his soulless, whip-cracking self. However, satisfied with what happened behind closed doors, he gives the girl a job, where she meets an up-and-coming employee, Martin West (Wallace Ford), and the two hit it off.
Will Martin and Madeline end up together? Will he find out just how she got her job in the first place? Will Mr Anderson’s stone heart ever crack? Will the store survive an encroaching financial collapse? Will I ever stop typing questions?!
Employee’s Entrance is one of the perfect pre-Codes. It comes in with the frank bitterness only the Depression could spark; everyone’s on tough times and it shows in their attitudes. Everyone’s willing to tarnish their halo a little in order to eat. Alice White plays a particularly jaded woman who appears to be on the payroll purely to “entertain” anyone Anderson needs to be on his side, and is not only okay with this, she revels in it, happy to identify as company whore if it puts dollars in her pocket.
photo courtesy Immortal Ephemera
It’s a harsh film, filled with grit and sex and pain, and the end is what I love most about pre-Codes: there is no moral, no lesson learned…everyone just keeps on keepin’ on, as it were, with no treacly sentimentality to gum up the works. Warren William is a treasure, and better minds than mine have written about how priceless he was to these hard-boiled films of the early 30s; I can’t imagine anyone else in the title role. Loretta Young is luminous and emotional without overplaying; Wallace Ford wrestles beautifully with the horrors William dishes out with glee. Highly recommended.
I give this one: