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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

SKYSCRAPER SOULS (1932)

Undercooked, but fascinating; it’s GRAND HOTEL/’31 in a skyscraper,* but with featured players instead of an All-Star cast. Warren William (on loan from Warners for a rare M-G-M gig) is in crisis mode from the get-go, ruthless at dispensing cutthroat business deals or personal charm as he works to keep his 100 storey skyscraper. Already balancing a wife & mistress, he’s soon grooming a fresh young thing on the side while varied office romances brew on every floor below among the likes of Jean Hersholt, Anita Page, Norman Foster & Wallace Ford. A lively set up, if only theatrical impresario & sometime movie megger Edgar Selwyn had the technique to make it swing. The film starts brightly enough. Well, not brightly, but showy, in the plush M-G-M manner. (Parquet floors everywhere you look!) But Selwyn either can’t sustain the rhythm to pull us over narrative bumps or was defeated by the usual post-production committee reshoots of Irving Thalberg’s M-G-M. And the cultured tones of Hedda Hopper, Verree Teasdale & Maureen O’Sullivan can wear you down when you’re not being put off by sexual harassment passing as healthy male libido. (Poor Norman Foster gets the worst of it in his pursuit of O’Sullivan.) Things improve in Act Three when the plot pivots from love-and-sex to stocks-and-bonds as a market tip grows out of control and starts wreaking havoc. By then, just enough real 1932 financial desperation and frank Pre-Code amorality gets thru to make this a lively show even when it’s not quite working. (Note our hardcover book tie-in poster with the title altered to fit the pic.) 

DOUBLE-BILL: *SOULS actually hit movie theaters a couple of months before GRAND HOTEL, but they really don’t pair up. Instead, try John Stahl’s neglected ONLY YESTERDAY/’33, a less than thrilling unwed mom meller that opens with an absolutely stunning 2-reel Wall Street Crash prologue. OR: For Pre-Code/Warren William mavens, see how much appalling behavior he gets away with back on Warners home turf in the shamelessly enjoyable EMPLOYEES’ ENTRANCE/’33.

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