Aspirations and the lives of several people working at the gigantic Seacoast National Bank Building interweave in various plots. The most notable character is David Dwight, the womanizing bank owner who keeps his estranged wife happy by paying for her extravagant globetrotting. Dwight's long time secretary Sarah yearns for them to divorce so her affair with him can be legitimized. Sarah shows her good side by playing mother to the young innocent Lynn Harding, who she employs as an assistant. Beautiful Miss Harding is relentlessly pursued by extroverted bank teller Tom Sheppard, but he is frustrated when Dwight lures her away with power and wealth. Then Dwight ruins everyone's finances in a successful bid to get full control of his skyscraper by manipulating the company's stock price. Now there doesn't appear to be anyone who can prevent the power monger from taking advantage of the ingenue Harding-or is there? Written by
Gary Jackson <email@example.com>
Will innocent young Lynn Harding (O'Sullivan) give in to rich man Dave Dwight's (William) predatory advances or will she settle for working-man Tom Shepherd's (Foster) marriage proposal. This is the height of the Depression (1932), so maybe being a toy for a rich man is better than barely hanging on in a house with kids. But then, Dwight is one ruthless conniver. We see how he's topped the business pile through heartless double-cross and market manipulation. But he's also charming, handsome, and very persuasive. It's a tough situation for the fetching young Lynn to find herself in.
The movie itself would not work so well without the commanding presence of William who dominates even down to the sub-plots. It's his magnetism that keeps those rather weak sub-plots (Hersholt, Ratoff, Ford) from limping away from the core. Too bad that this fine actor died fairly young and is now largely forgotten. The cuddly O'Sullivan, too, shines in her role as the ingénue, showing how she could be both tough and winsome. No wonder Tarzan wanted her for a mate.
The plot resembles Employee's Entrance (1933), where William played a department store tycoon as unsympathetic as his role here. Skyscraper's high point comes when the supremely self-assured Dwight lords his triumph over business rivals in a startling 3-minute soliloquy to superior ruthlessness. Business has no ethics or rules, he asserts. Thus, he won the battle for the skyscraper's ownership by playing the game more ruthlessly and cleverly than his opponents. So instead of complaining, they should learn the hard lesson he has taught them if they want to succeed in the world of high finance. It's as clear a statement of Darwinist principles as any movie of the day, and likely confirmed audience suspicions on the nature of the economic crisis then threatening them. Just as in Employee's Entrance, I expect the audience comes to grudgingly admire William's clarity at the same time he's feared and loathed. Perhaps there's also insight into the odd mass appeal of those political strong men like Hitler and Mussolini then on the rise.
This is another of those pre-Code gems that deserves the kind of resurrection cable TV can give them. Note how casually marriage is treated by the upper echelon, especially by Dwight's little lesson on how physical separation guarantees a lasting partnership. Also, note how casually the innuendo drifts by, especially how a "Mrs. Kind", no less, has injured poor old Charlie Norton's back the night before. Then too, Dwight may be one heartless businessman, but he also pensions off ex-mistresses in pretty generous fashion. Unfortunately, honesty of this sort would soon disappear from the screen for decades courtesy the Motion Picture Code's effort at reinforcing the non-sexual and non-political in the face of increasingly restive Depression-era audiences.
Nonetheless, this is a movie to catch up with, along with the equally revealing Employee's Entrance from the same period. It's also a good window into one of the finest neglected performers of his time and before he got trapped into too many lightweight vehicles, the compelling Warren William.
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