Five and Ten (1931) is a cautionary tale about how addiction to money and materialism can destroy a family without anyone realizing until it’s too late. The MGM Pre-Codes could be quite dark, and Five and Ten is no exception. Despite the pathos on screen, this film avoids being sappy.
The story involves a discount store mogul (Richard Bennett) who moves his family from Kansas City to New York (a jarring move, culturally) intent on conquest. His ambition to construct the tallest building and acquire more stores means there’s no room for anyone else. His neglected wife (Irene Rich) carries on an affair with a gigolo. His daughter, played by Marion Davies, falls for a playboy, portrayed by Leslie Howard, who suggests that Davies become his mistress until he can marry and divorce the woman he’s engaged to but does not love. His son, credited as Kent Douglass, is shoehorned into the family business and hates it. The libertine lifestyle and social pecking order of Manhattan’s young and rich are on full display.
The only thing that seemed off, that I couldn't quite buy, is the affair of Bennett’s wife. Ms. Rich had a rather matronly screen presence. Seeing her sneak off at night to meet a slick young scoundrel didn’t quite jell.
As usual, MGM’s sets are superb: the cavernous mansion Davies and her family reside; Howard’s modernist bachelor pad; the glittering lights and skyline when Davies and Howard spend the night on the roof of a skyscraper; and the sounds of those car horns and traffic whistles so effective at establishing a time and place.