SKYSCRAPER SOULS (director/writer: Edgar Selwyn; screenwriters: C. Gardner Sullivan/Elmer Harris/from the novel Skyscraper by Faith Baldwin; cinematographer: William Daniels; editor: Tom Held; music: Rudolf Bial/Emil Frey; cast: Warren William (David Dwight), Maureen O’Sullivan (Lynn Harding), Gregory Ratoff (Mr. Vinmont), Anita Page (Jenny LeGrande), Verree Teasdale (Sarah Dennet), Norman Foster (Tom Shepherd), Hedda Hopper (Ella Dwight), Wallace Ford (Slim), George Barbier (Norton), Jean Hersholt (Jake Sorenson), Arnold Lucy (Hamilton), Purnell Pratt (Harrington Brewster), John Marston (Bill); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; MGM; 1932)
“Not shy about parading around its hot young starlet Maureen O’Sullivan in lingerie.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This pre-Code drama about love triangles, capitalistic greed and insider traders tells in its main story a travesty committed by a ruthless and corrupt Manhattan empire builder banker named David Dwight (Warren William), who owns the esteemed 100-story Dwight Building as a monument to his ego–which is made comparable in height and stature to the Empire State Building (the world’s tallest building at the time at 102 stories, that was completed in 1931). It’s a property that the self-absorbed Dwight values more than any of his others or for that matter anything in life.
Skyscraper Souls is scripted by C. Gardner Sullivan and Elmer Harris from the 1931 novel Skyscraper by Faith Baldwin, and offers obvious morality lessons about gambling, adultery and materialism over love. It’s also not shy about parading around its hot young starlet Maureen O’Sullivan in lingerie. Director Edgar Selwyn (“The Girl in the Show”/”Men Call It Love”/”War Nurse”) keeps it as steely cold as a city skyscraper and as a portmanteau drama like the successful Grand Hotel, which only opened two months prior. This comedy/drama’s problem however is that not only was the cad Dwight not likable, but neither were the two heroines or hero nor any of the many supporting characters in all the subplots. Also the schematic story never seemed anything but contrived and as empty as the host of inane flawed characters featured. It was produced by William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Production for MGM. All the action takes place in the Dwight Building.
David Dwight is president of the Board of Directors of the Seacoast Bank, who learns he’s in danger of losing his precious NYC building because bank examiners are sure to question the legality of the huge outstanding loan which he made to himself for the building by illegally using his depositors money. With that, Dwight schemes how to get money to pay back his $30 million loan before the bank examiners act.
Sarah Dennet (Verree Teasdale) is Dwight’s long-time mistress and loyal business assistant, who thinks she knows him best but misjudges the lengths he would go to in order to keep control of the building and keep her from marrying him. Dwight has told her his estranged wife Ella (Hedda Hopper, future gossip columnist), who lives in France, won’t grant him a divorce, which she will learn from Ella’s own lips, when it’s too late, was a total fabrication.
Youngster Lynn Harding (Maureen O’Sullivan, fresh from her Tarzan the Ape Man movie in 1932) has recently arrived in Manhattan and is secretary to the middle-aged Sarah, who has known Lynn since she was a child from their shared hometown and looks after her like a mother. One day brash and creepy young bank teller Tom Shepherd (Norman Foster) makes a pass at Lynn and won’t take no for an answer until she agrees to date him. She rebuffs his advances on their first night out, but agrees to a second date. Only Dwight spots the attractive Lynn in Sarah’s office and has her work at night for him on a building report, and then to hand deliver it to his tower apartment in the Dwight Building. Tom waits in Lynn’s office, but she doesn’t return as the oily Dwight is hosting a party and plies Lynn with champagne until she passes out and is not awakened until late–whereby she rejects a pass that the dirty old man makes. The jealous Tom waits in the lobby and spots Lynn coming out of Dwight’s place at 3 a.m and has a row with her the next day, believing she ditched him because he’s just a working stiff.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
At the party Dwight talks to his best friend, wealthy banker Charlie Norton (George Barbier), about a bank merger with his Seacoast Bank and the next morning Norton enters into the business deal with Dwight while they are in a Turkish bath. Sarah gives the insider tip to Tom about the bank merger, while somehow word of the merger leaks to the big investors. Meanwhile shady banker Hamilton (Arnold Lucy) has made a secret deal with Dwight to allow Seacoast stock to soar to $350 a share and then sell short, thereby ruining his rival, while giving Dwight the dough to buy his building outright. When this happens after the public goes into a feeding frenzy over the stock, Norton gets ruined as do all Dwight’s fellow board members and the small investors who greedily thought they would be rich. One of Dwight’s loyal members of the board, Brewster (Purnell Pratt), lost his shirt and commits suicide. Tom figured to score $25,000 to buy a house in Jersey and marry Lynn. But now that Tom’s broke and Dwight has secured his building, Lynn accepts Dwight’s offer to sail on his yacht on a vacation to the Caribbean. But the spurned Sarah, whom Dwight buys a house for in Scarsdale to end their relationship, refuses to let Dwight ruin Lynn’s life like he did her life and shoots him dead in his office. Before the louse dies, he wipes Sarah’s prints off the gun and tells his servant that he accidentally shot himself. After the despairing Sarah commits suicide by throwing herself from the top floor of the Dwight Building the film ends on a happy note, as Lynn now agrees to marry Tom and says they can get by on his bank salary of $50 a week to raise a family. Ironically, Ella inherits the building and decides to sell it.
REVIEWED ON 12/16/2008 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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