Written by: Carroll Jenkins on March 3rd, 2015
Theatrical Release Dates: USA, 1932 (Hatchet Man / Skyscraper Souls), USA, 1933(Employees’ Entrance), USA, 1933 (Ex-Lady)
Directors: William A. Wellman (Hatchet Man), Edgar Selwyn (Skyscraper Souls), Roy Del Ruth (Employees’ Entrance), Robert Florey (Ex-Lady)
Cast: Edward G. Robinsonm, Loretta Young, Tully Marshall, Charles Middleton (Hatchet Man), Warren William, Maureen O’Sullivan, Hedda Hopper (Skyscraper Souls), Warren William, Loretta Young, Wallace Ford, Alice White (Employees’ Entrance), Bette Davis (Ex-Lady)
DVD released: April 30th, 2013
Approximate running times: 74 Minutes (Hatchet Man), 99 Minutes (Skyscraper Souls), 75 Minutes (Employees’ Entrance), 67 Minutes (Ex-Lady)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio (All Films)
Rating: NR (All Films)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English (All Films)
DVD Release: Warner Archive
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $47.99
Hatchet Man: Edgar G Robinson is not only Chinese, but he’s the hereditary hatchet man for the tong (like an enforcer for the mob). But San Francisco’s Chinatown is becoming increasingly progressive and tolerant, isn’t it? This is practically a prestige picture with a huge cast, lavish sets, and an epic storyline. Yes, the key protagonists are played by Caucasians in makeup (including Loretta Young), but that continued for years and is not a pre-code aspect. In fact, the vast majority of the cast is actually comprised of Chinese actors (with perhaps a few additional Asian ethnicities in the mix), and they don’t work in laundries. By that score alone this actually is a progressive film for it’s time, as are the several monologues delivered by Robinson.
The pre-code aspects are primarily the adultery, drug use, and slavery. They are, however, merely an exotic spice or perhaps an incense to a very intriguing and satisfying film which is top-notch all around and might have been remembered as a classic were it not that the excesses are so prevalent that censorship was not a viable option.
Skyscraper Souls: Warren Williams is a womanizing heel who stays married just to protect himself from his long term affairs with his employees. He’s also a ruthless businessman to whom persons are just obstacles to his goal and many become statistics as he grinds them underfoot. The movie incorporates several different storylines of people that populate the business hours of The Building, a 100 story skyscraper; and the goings-on, wild parties, and dalliances that occur in the penthouse apartment after hours.
The casting is excellent in every respect including Warren Williams and Maureen O’Sullivan as a saucy little sprite conflicted between love (with a jerk) and the temptations of the easy life. The most interesting and captivating performance is from silent film and first-sound-film / first musical best-picture Oscar winner veteran Anita Page as a hooker with a heart of gold. Direction is from the one-and-only Edgar Selwyn – the ‘wyn’ in Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
Be forewarned that this can be a very harrowing experience as it deals with Wall Street chicanery and manipulations resulting in the loss of myriad fortunes great and small and the consequences thereof. In that regard it is just as relevant today as it was then, and due the pre-code freedom it manages simultaneously to pull the heart strings and pack quite a punch.
Employees’ Entrance: This is a sequel to or re-working of Skyscraper Souls featuring Warren Williams as a similarly Machiavellian manager in a comparable environment inappropriately lusting after an ingénue (Loretta Young), but with an even more callous and self-centric world view. The twist is that this time he’s single and she’s married [though he doesn’t know]. Many are the machinations to be discovered here in the corporate world of retail.
Ex-Lady: Bette Davis gets a starring role in this talky, melodramatic snooze-fest remake of Illicit. There is a great scene of the couple in bed having a discussion where she keeps slapping her face all the time (as a toning exercise) and Bette wears some slinky lingerie, but that’s about it.
All four films come on separate discs and the image quality is very nice. Theatrical trailers are included for all but Skyscraper Souls. As usual, there are no subtitles or closed captions.
Forbidden Hollywood Volume 7 is a winner with two excellent films and one very good one.
NOTE: Initial quantities of this release will be traditionally replicated (pressed).