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|Index||25 reviews in total|
Utterly ruthless & immoral, the owner of New York's tallest
building plots & schemes to keep control of his creation,
trampling upon anyone who gets in his way. Others working
the great colossus also live lives of drama & everyday
excitement. All these SKYSCRAPER SOULS will soon find
themselves bound together by greed, lust, betrayal, suicide
Practically screaming its pre-Production Code status, this neglected film is rather fascinating in the risqué development of its plot. Sex, both leering & suggested, plays an important role in the story. By making its hero a man both charming & completely treacherous, open to any underhand suggestion, it makes a lie out of Louis B. Mayer's assertion that all of MGM's product was family friendly. Even today, this is potent, powerful material. And absolutely engaging.
Warren William is almost distressingly good as the unscrupulous building owner, around whom much of the action revolves. His blunt dishonesty almost makes chicanery respectable.
The rest of the cast is equally proficient:
Maureen O'Sullivan as a naive young secretary lusted over by William & loved by brash bank clerk Norman Foster.
Gregory Ratoff, hilarious as a harried dressmaker.
Anita Page as a brash prostitute/model beloved by noble jeweler Jean Hersholt.
Verree Teasdale, William's mistress for 12 years, finally pushed to the breaking point.
Wallace Ford as a radio announcer, tragically driven to desperation by his love of unhappily married Helen Coburn.
George Barbier as a jolly fat debauchee, one of William's eventual financial victims.
And Hedda Hopper, William's absent, knowing wife - very content with his money, but not his company.
Movie mavens will also recognize Billy Gilbert as a lobby cigarette stand owner, Edward Brophy & Doris Lloyd as the man & woman in the elevator.
Back in the early 30's, Maureen O'Sullivan was the quintessential "good
who wants to be bad", which is to say, she seemed prim and proper on the
surface, but a powerfully sexy woman lay right underneath that surface,
would only come out for the right guy--or sometimes the wrong guy.
Though she is not exactly the star of this movie, she did get second billing after Warren William, in spite of being so new to the motion picture biz. This was probably in response to her having appeared as Jane in the first Weissmuller Tarzan film, not long before. That remains her best role--she is essentially the protagonist in the first two Tarzan movies--she's the one who is changing, casting aside the sexual mores of her society, and joining Tarzan in his idyllic state of noble savagery.
In the urban jungle of "Skyscraper Souls", she plays a less idyllic character, wanting to enjoy both sexual passion and social respectability, along with a decent income. Nobody can offer her everything she wants, so she's left with two imperfect choices--the poor young clerk she likes, who will offer marriage. And the sexy ruthless tycoon she REALLY likes, who will take her as his "ward" (that is to say, his mistress) and possibly cast her aside in a decade or so, assuming he isn't too old to care by that point. Of course, she'd be set for life, even if that happened. But by the point in the film where she gives into him, she almost seems past caring about that. She's tried to follow the rules, and society has only penalized her for it. The man who supposedly loves her doesn't trust her, and she's feeling powerfully drawn to David Dwight, who understands her perfectly, and doesn't stand in judgment of anybody--least of all himself. He's a bastard, who destroys people to get what he wants--but he doesn't pretend to be anything else. He doesn't care about respectability or morality. Very few rich men truly do, but most like to at least pretend.
This pre-code film has it both ways, regarding the denouement of this particular sub-plot--you can, if you wish, believe that Lynn is saved from the proverbial Fate Worse Than Death, by the not entirely selfless intervention of her friend, Dwight's former mistress. But in truth, a number of days have passed since Lynn gave in to Dwight's advances, she seems awfully comfortable in his embrace, she's wearing clothes he bought for her, and is obviously living in his penthouse. Dwight is not the kind of man who is going to wait until he gets her on the yacht to have his pleasure. He's already gotten what he--and she--wanted. Even in the pre-code era, this is a bit too subversive, which is why the movie deftly clouds the issue of whether they've had sex or not. But there can be no doubt of her eagerness--by this point, she wouldn't leave Dwight for the bank clerk, even if the clerk could offer her everything she asked for.
With Dwight gone, she'll marry her bank clerk, and raise a family, and perhaps count herself lucky to have gotten to experience a bit of the high life before settling down. But one wonders if the bank clerk will end up wondering why their first kid doesn't look like him. I'm reading a great deal into this, of course. I really hated the bank clerk, btw.
Skyscraper Souls is a witty and provocative look at business
in the early 1930's. Full of risque and snappy comments, the movie is a
fascinating look at a building and how its builder worked to keep it.
The cast is brilliant led by Warren William as an astute but unscrupulous banker. Verree Teasdale is very sharp as Williams' lovely adminstrative aide. Her mature attitude towards Williams' advances is a highlight of the picture. She accepts that she will never be his wife, even though she loves him. He is too busy maintaining appearences, even though his wife and he are never together. Hedda Hopper is delightful as the wife who maintains a relationship from another continent, but comes to see William for money from time to time.
A subplot involving Maureen O'Sullivan and Norman Foster is rather annoying.
There is social commentary here as the workers in the building attempt to make a living while the big businessmen play with millions of dollars.
The movie is sexy too. A scene with Jean Hersholt and Anita Page is very suggestive as are some scenes with Warren William and Verree Teasdale.
Overall, the movie is very interesting and moves very quickly.
Made before "the code" removed all "offensive" material from American movies, Skyscraper Souls combines the social commentary of a Warner Bros. film, the class of an MGM production, and the sleaziness of a pulp novel. Warren Williams, a great but sadly overlooked actor, is perfect as the nice-but-slimy David Dwight, bank entrepreneur, who has built a 100-story monument to himself and doesn't have the $30,000,000 to pay for it. How he gets the money and what happens to those who unwittingly fall into his trap, constitutes the main thrust of the narrative. The film is full of diverse characters, all trying to eek out a living in the towering Dwight Bldg. The many plotlines cross and criss-cross, and the end is more realistic than one would expect from a "Hollywood" film. Watch for it on TCM, or on Laserdisc, in the "Forbidden Hollywood" set.
"Skyscraper Souls" is something of a poor man's "Grand Hotel." Instead of
the Barrymore brothers, Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, and Joan Crawford, we
get Warren William, Jean Hersholt, Hedda Hopper, and Maureen O'Sullivan,
as was often the case in the 30s, MGM's second team plays as well as their
For all its stars, "Grand Hotel" now seems pretty creaky and its characters generally not very engaging. The Weimar Berlin setting doesn't help matters; you can almost feel the sense of decay and resignation. "Skyscraper" is it's polar opposite. Although New York is in the grip of the Great Depression, you can't help but be swept up in the picture's vitality. The market may be crashing, but people haven't lost their spunk, especially William's ruthless tycoon, who's just thrown up a 100 story building - try finding one of those in Berlin.
"Skyscraper" moves at a fast pace and its multiple plot lines mesh together quite well. Although it was made 70 years ago, both the financial and romantic entanglements seem very modern. Dave Dwight certainly would be at home in today's board room and most of the women come across as surprisingly contemporary. They aren't exactly feminists, but these girls don't take things lying down.
Highly recommended to film buffs, students of the Depression era, and anyone who enjoys modern melodrama.
I absolutely loved every square foot of this movie and want to own a copy of it. It could be remade today and be a huge hit. Maureen O'Sullivan was gorgeous, the dialog was witty, the plot line complex...it had so many modern qualities, I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was watching a 30's film. I give it a thumbs up. Loved the nefarious banker, "Dave", Hedda Hopper as the dilettante wife...loved the long suffering assistant...loved Shep the jilted lover. Loved it all. It was an eerie look into the stock market crash leading up to the great depression, and of the heights and desperation the human soul can reach during trying times. The ending was literally a cliff hanger. Whew - I could not believe it! A Boffo hit! I give it two thumbs up.
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.
Story about a 100 story skyscraper in New York--David Dwight (Warren
William) helped finance the building but is running out of money. He
needs more and will do anything to get it. Other characters in the
movie are Jenny (Anita Page) a model who openly sleeps with guys for
money; sweet virginal Lynn (Maureen O'Sullivan); Tom (Norman Foster)
who loves Lynn--but Dwight wants her too; Sarah Dennis (Verree
Teasdale) who is Dwight's mistress and Myra (Helen Coburn) who loves
her husband but he can't find work..and Slim (Wallace Ford) wants her.
As you can see there are multiple story lines crisscrossing each other. The movie moves quick and is pre-Code meaning it was pretty open about adultery, sex, suicide and murder. Nothing TOO racy by today's standards (the TV rating is G) but pretty strong for 1932. The acting is good--William, O'Sullivan, Page and Teasdale come off best. No masterpiece of cinema but quick, fun and well worth searching out--TCM shows it occasionally. An 8.
This movie is almost like combining a soap opera like the TV show HOTEL
and combining it with the 1930s film THE MATCH KING. This is because
throughout this modern skyscraper, many stories involving infidelity
and financial ruin abound. And, of all the tales, the most pervasive
and impressive is the character Warren William plays--a guy who has
leveraged his empire to the hilt and stands on the verge of great
success or bankruptcy--much like William's true-life character from THE
MATCH KING. The story also has a decent amount of sleaze compared to
later films since it was made in the early days of the Hay Office that
controlled violence and morals in films. In the early days, they
weren't as strict and studios didn't take them all that seriously--this
is VERY evident in this film as it pulls very few punches in telling
this entertaining tale.
By the way, almost equally entertaining is another film that apparently is a re-working of this Warren William film. "Manhattan Tower" is a low-budget film with a heck of a lot of entertainment value despite its very low budget. Currently, you can watch or download this film through IMDb and compare it to "Skyscraper Souls". Wow...these two films would sure make a nice double-feature.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is a great example--of one of the best--of Pre-Code
film-making in the early 1930s. Warren William plays an incredibly
unscrupulous businessman who controls a high-rise building in New York.
He's having an affair with his married assistant, lusts after secretary
Maureen O'Sullivan, cheats all of his business partners, and illegally
manipulates stock prices, leading to a startling and tragic end.
There's also great support from Anita Page and Verree Teasdale.
Along the way is some of the most raw and racy pre-Code stuff around, including leering sex and some very lively dialogue. My only objection is Norman Foster's character, who is so clumsy and oafish that he makes Jerry Lewis look tame by comparison. Still a great experience, just listen carefully for some very off-color remarks by William.
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