Saturday, August 13, 2022



Warren William--The King of Pre-Code, the Captain of Cads--is back to his devious schemes again, this time at MGM instead of Warner Bros., in the 1932 production SKYSCRAPER SOULS. 

William plays bank president David Dwight, who has borrowed $30 million to build a spectacular skyscraper called, fittingly enough, the Dwight Building. The $30 million will soon be due, but Dwight has plenty of nefarious plans to avoid paying and gain even more power as well. Dwight has an open marriage, which allows him to carry on a heavy relationship with his personal assistant (Verree Teasdale). But the high-living businessman enjoys plenty of women on the side, and when he gets a gander at Teasdale's own secretary (Maureen O'Sullivan), he starts putting the moves on her as well. Dwight manipulates the stock market to further his ambitions, but his dirty dealings and womanizing catch up with him in a shocking climax. 

SKYSCRAPER SOULS, being a MGM film, is somewhat different than the usual Warners Pre-Code melodrama. At 99 minutes, it's much longer, with a steadier pace, and it lacks the Warners rough edges. 

Warren William is more subtle here than one expects him to be, but he still is able to be dastardly when he needs to. Near the end of the film William gets to perform a great robust speech about what the building means to him. I believe that SKYSCRAPER SOULS is one of Warren William's best roles period. He once again proves that even though he's the cause of everyone's problems, he still has more charisma and style than anyone else in the cast, and he dominates all the other actors in any scene he's in. 

Warren William and Maureen O'Sullivan

Maureen O'Sullivan is technically the leading lady in the story, but Verree Teasdale gets the better role as Miss Dennis, a woman who has had to stand on the sidelines while the man she loves gets whatever he wants. Miss Dennis is old enough to be her secretary's mother, and when she realizes that her young protege is going to replace her (in more ways than one), she decides to take matters in her own hands. 

As for O'Sullivan, her character is burdened with a boyfriend that happens to work in Dwight's bank (located in the skyscraper). This fellow, played by Norman Foster, is an ordinary guy that the audience is supposed to root for, but Foster's whiny voice and his annoying manner makes one wonder why O'Sullivan would even want to be around him. 

There's plenty of important supporting roles in SKYSCRAPER SOULS--the building houses all sorts of shops and apartment dwellings that numerous folks work and live in. Anita Page plays a model with a bad reputation who surprisingly gets a happy ending, and there's also Gregory Ratoff, Jean Hersholt, Wallace Ford (the resolution of the subplot involving him is quite memorable), Edward Brophy, and Billy Gilbert. Hedda Hopper plays Dwight's wife, who only shows up when she needs money. At one point I saw a glimpse of what looked like Boris Karloff...and, according to multiple sources, he is listed as being in the film. Considering that this movie came out after the release of FRANKENSTEIN, I can only assume that Karloff was meant to have more than just one fleeting appearance, and for whatever reason his role was cut down. 

One of the main characters in the story happens to be the Dwight Building itself, which, in the first shot of the film, is shown to be taller than the Empire State Building. The interior of the Dwight Building, especially the lobby, is a art-deco lovers dream, augmented by MGM's expensive gloss. Thousands of folks live and work in this building, and they all have their own stories. I have to admit that the idea of a TV series based on an edifice like the Dwight Building popped into my head while watching this movie. 

SKYSCRAPER SOULS was directed by Edgar Selwyn. He does a capable job, but I couldn't help but wonder what a William Wellman or a Frank Capra could have done with a story like this. Selwyn is helped by William Daniels' cinematography, which at times uses a roving camera to establish the momentous interior of the Dwight Building. One particular shot that impressed me was an overhead view of the lobby during the early hours of the morning, as Warren William and Maureen O'Sullivan navigate their way through a group of cleaning ladies--the women almost move in unison like chorus girls. 

SKYSCRAPER SOULS is a great Pre-Code, especially for Warren William fans. It should be viewed just for the climax alone. 

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