Weekend Film Recommendation: How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)

An incisive take on the life of corporate suits and their sexy secretaries in 1960s Manhattan, with Robert Morse as the star. No, it’s not Mad Men, but 1967’s toe-tapping, uplifting and funny “How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying)”.

Based on the smash Broadway hit, the heart of the film is of course the music. The songwriter is the great Frank Loesser, and some of his most enjoyable pieces are rendered with energy and talent by the cast (“Brotherhood of Man”, “The Company Way”, “I Believe in You”). Bob Fosse’s choreography is consistently creative and the colourful costumes by Micheline enliven every scene.

The agreeably silly script tells the story of an ambitious window washer named J. Pierpont Finch (Robert Morse, whose bravura performance deserved an Oscar nomination) who climbs the corporate ladder with shocking speed, aided by the titular self-help book. He is pursued by Rosemary Pilkington (Cutely played by Michelle Lee), who is every bit as ambitious in love as he is in work. Many veterans of the stage production (including Rudy Vallee) contribute their comic and musical gifts.

David Swift, famous as a Disney animator and TV writer/director, seems an unlikely writer/producer/director for this film. In some ways, one could say it was an easy job because the choreography and cast had mostly been worked out already on Broadway. But on the other hand, adapting a beloved Broadway show to the screen is a big risk for a director because fans of the stage version can get upset at the inevitable changes in the film version. Here they were apparently delighted along with the rest of the movie-going population, so kudos to Swift for a smooth translation of play to screen, and congratulations on what was the high mark of his career as a film maker.

I am embedding one of my favorite numbers from the movie because it always picked me up when I was a lowly graduate student feeling stomped on and disrespected in a really demanding doctoral programme. Enjoy.

Footnote: There are two continuity goofs in the opening minutes of the film. Finch pays for his newspaper but grabs the self-help book impulsively without paying for it and the guy running the booth doesn’t react. A few moments later, when he starts from the roof down on the window washing platform, there is another window washer working the other side. But that guy is played by a different actor by the time Finch has descended to the window. Yes…noticing these things means I have seen this movie perhaps too many times. But. Can’t. Stop. Re-Watching. So. So. Entertaining.