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  How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying The Singing Self-Help Course
Year: 1967
Director: David Swift
Stars: Robert Morse, Michele Lee, Rudy Vallee, Anthony Teague, Maureen Arthur, John Myhers, Carol Worthington, Kay Reynolds, Ruth Kobart, Sammy Smith, Jeff DeBenning, Janice Carroll, Robert Q. Lewis, Paul Hartman, Dan Tobin, John Holland, Justin Smith
Genre: Musical, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: When J. Pierpont Finch (Robert Morse) is on his way to work one day he notices a paperback on the newstands whose title immediately intrigues him: "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". Being an ambitious sort, Finch buys it on the spot and spends his journey perusing its pages until he reaches the skyscraper where he has a job - as the window cleaner. Can this book truly help him break into the corporate world? Once up in the cradle he has a brainwave and opens one of the windows, walks into the office and strips off his boiler suit to reveal a suit and tie underneath... onwards and upwards.

This was indeed a book before it was a film, but more importantly Frank Loesser and his colleagues had scripted a musical in between, which had been a huge hit on Broadway, even winning a Pulitzer Prize for drama in the process. For this movie version, the satire was toned down and the whole production saw its sharp edges considerably softened, yet if the critical take on American business was made friendlier, they couldn't quite eliminate the desire to show up those great institutions of the nation as hotbeds of jealousy, favouritism, nepotism, sexism and the "one hand doesn't know what the other is doing" observations.

In fact, so critical was the plot of the business world that it's a wonder it wasn't the victim of accusations of political subversion; that's because its main character may have been a conniver yet with Robert Morse reprising his role as Finch, his charm allowed him to get away with an awful lot seeing as how he was living out a version of the American Dream. That was, anybody can make a success of themselves in that country, able to climb the ladder of corporate machinations and come out on top. Besides, there were a number of obstacles in the way of that goal to make it clear reading a book was not going to be enough on its own, as Finch has to think on the spur of the moment too.

Especially when his introduction to the boss, Jasper B. Biggley (Rudy Vallee, also from the stage production), involves bumping right into him mere seconds after entering the building. On being told that his future there will be seriously curtailed after such a faux pas of etiquette, Finch nonetheless manages to bluff his way into the mailroom, even using his close encounter with Biggley as leverage. He puts a certain spin on it, of course, and that ability to bluff his way through situations is his true talent, though not everyone is a walkover as he soon finds, yet also his way with the engaging line or two is enough to grease the rails and soon he has his own office, and a girlfriend in secretary Rosemary (Michele Lee, best known for The Love Bug).

Though Rosemary is a smooth operator as well, practically inviting herself into Finch's life, apparently noting a good thing when she sees it, or a promising one at any rate. For all the dilution of the original's intentions, Morse made his portrayal one which you know you should be having misgivings about (it was his genial ruthlessness here that doubtlessly got him the role on TV drama Mad Men all those years later), yet he's surrounded by so many whose self-interest is uppermost in their minds that you think, hell, why not beat them at their own games? With songs that are better in context than lifted from the show, the ballad Rosemary (its best known tune) aside, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying contained some bright musical numbers, with David Swift evidently taking the approach that he would plant the cameras down in front of the cast and let them get on with it. Its colourful appearance was enough to captivate, but the essential Hollywood quality tended to play down its Broadway teeth and make it seem creakier than it was.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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