“Have you ever been to Speakeasy?”
So says Norman Foster to Maureen O’Sullivan in this orgy of sex and wall street scheming from the pre-code era of early 1930’s Hollywood.
It’s time for the monthly Mad Movie Challenge with Kristina from……..yup Speakeasy. It’s when she assigns me a flick to watch that I have never gotten around to and in many cases probably never would have. This Warren William film fits right into the latter category. For those that have been to Kristina’s site it should come as no surprise that she would challenge me to this film. She’s big on both Warren William and the pre-codes.
William stars as a shrewd banker this time out who works and lives in the giant skyscraper referred to in the film’s title. He’s currently engaged in trying to secure a loan and with some back door moves oust his board of directors and become the lone wolf controlling his empire alone. Like many men in power it’s the lure of women and sex that may lead to his downfall.
Warren has a wife played by Hedda Hopper. THE Hedda who would become the know it all about town when it came to getting scoops ahead of her main competition Louella Parsons. She could make or break many stars in the years ahead. Or at least threaten to.
Aside from Hedda, Warren has a mistress played by Verree Teasdale but has his sights firmly set on Maureen O’Sullivan who at one point in the film he refers to as “jail bait.” That’s a pretty big word in thirties film. Caught me by surprise.
While Warren is trying to secure Maureen as his next mistress she in turn is constantly avoiding the pawing of Foster. Both are employed in the towering building. She as a stenographer and he as a bank clerk. His character has one thing on his mind for the first half of the film and it doesn’t involve numbers but it does include figures. “Just a little kiss.”
Just when she is giving in to his constant begging he discovers she may have spent the night with William. She did indeed drink herself to the point of passing out and partying in a way that would disappear from the screen in two short years when “the code” became enforced, drastically cutting down on what the movies could include. Lines like “You are innocent aren’t you?” This in reference to whether or not Anita Page’s Jenny is still virginal. In actuality she’s a prostitute that Jean Hersholt has fallen for. “Do you know what I am?” she asks him.
When Warren sets up a shady take over on wall street he’s reached the heights his character has aspired to. But a crucial misjudgement in the fairer sex just might be his undoing. Ahead of us there is a rather shocking scene that one won’t see too often from the golden era of films post 1934.
This MGM production was one of the few films directed by Edgar Selwyn. He would retire from directing in 1934 but also gave us another pre-code effort with Helen Hayes as a prostitute titled The Sin of Madelon Claudet.
Also in the cast is Wallace Ford as a young banker named Slim. Maybe in 1934 but by the time the forties and fifties came around he always struck me as pudgy. Turning up in a blurry bit we also have Boris Karloff. Blink and you’ll miss him. In truth I did. After doing a little research on the film I went back and sure enough there he is. Perhaps a missing scene that wound up on the floor?
This was the same year that Maureen O’Sullivan would reach screen immortality as Jane opposite Johnny Weissmuller in the first of six Tarzan films that she would team up in with the Olympic swimming champion. The first two of which are solid examples of the pre-code era as well.
I have a feeling if I watched this title a second time I would spot more sexual innuendos and hints at debauchery that I may have missed the first time around. Scenes like Anita Page in just her bra and skirt. Or how about Foster gripping O’Sullivan’s ankle and claim he’s looking for a lost nickel. Her reply, “Be careful where you look.” He is of course on the floor looking up as she stands overhead.
While I have to admit I don’t think this film is as good as other films of the era, it is a wonderful example of the kind of film that may have led to the Hollywood studios banding together to create the code by which they would exist for the next thirty years or so. All in the name of box office and preventing many movies from being out right banned by groups such as the Catholic Legion of Decency.
Our leading man Warren William it must be said is a wonderful fit here and surely excelled in these kind of roles. Either he’s that good of an actor or he really was a sly fellow when it comes to bedding much younger women. Perhaps both?
Now it’s time to direct you over to visit Kristina and read of a film that I have only seen once but one whose message I took to heart and stars a talented master and one of my favorite leading ladies whom he helped to get started in the picture business.