How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)

how to succeed in business without really trying

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Up the corporate ladder.

J. Pierpont Finch (Robert Morse) is a window washer looking to get ahead in the business world. By pure chance he finds a book entitled ‘How to Get Ahead in Business without Really Trying’. He reads it and follows the advice. He quickly gets a job at a large company and within days he moves all the way up from the mailroom to the head of advertising and eventually chairman of the board all without doing much work in this adaptation of the hit Broadway play, which in turn was an adaptation of the Abe Burrows novel.

This delightful film is lively and fresh even after all these years. The humor of course exaggerates life in the business world, but remains on target nonetheless. It accurately pinpoints all the universal problems and politics one goes through when working at a large company and dealing with the inside politics of getting ahead. Nothing is dated because it sticks with exposing the human foibles that come about in any generation when in a competitive and uncompromising environment, which is why I found it funny and interesting.

David Swift’s direction is top-notch. The pace is fast and furious balancing the humor and songs nicely. The sets are colorful and garish enough to accentuate the story’s farcical nature, but still bring out an office atmosphere feeling as well as the bigness of the company with large and imposing doorways including the amusing cathedral-like one that opens up to Finch’s office at the very end. At no times does the film suffer from the static staginess like most stage plays do when adapted to the screen.

The songs by Frank Loesser are upbeat and melodic and sound distinctive. My favorite one was the toe-tapping ‘A Secretary is Not a Toy’, but the showstopper ‘Brotherhood of Man’ had the best dance routines and was rousing enough to almost get me out of my seat. Rudy Vallee and Morse are also great in their rendition of ‘The Old Ivy’ fight song.

Morse recreates his role from the Broadway production. His voice isn’t necessarily the best and some of his singing seems a bit off-key, but his very boyish looks, gap-toothed grin, and bowl haircut is perfect for the part. A fun moment involving him is the scene where he prances down a busy New York sidewalk that was done with hidden cameras and the reactions from the other people on the street are genuine and real.

Michele Lee is terrific in her film debut. Her energy and perky smile are perfect as is her voice in the rendition of ‘I Believe in You’. She is probably best known to most for her starring role in the long running TV-series ‘Knots Landing’. What I can’t get over is how she continues to look like she hasn’t ever aged. A video on YouTube from her appearance at a 2011 AARP event has her looking almost the same as she does in this film. The interviewer tells her she is looking good and Lee replies ‘I always do’, which may seem conceited to some, but when one continues to look as great as she does then I suppose it is deserved.

Vallee best known as a crooner from the 1920’s is fun as Jasper Biggley the pompous head of the corporation. Anthony Teague with his devilish grin is great as the nefarious Bud Frump. I also liked the cute Kay Reynolds as Smitty and found it a shame that neither of these two talented young performers went on to do much else film-wise after this.

The only one I really didn’t like was Maureen Arthur as the ditzy and dumb Hedy Larue. Her high pitched voice and body gyrations were clichéd, over-the-top, and more annoying than funny. However, the incompetent way she takes down a dictated letter as well her reluctance to put her hand on a giant Bible during the film’s hilarious treasure hunt scene did manage to elicit some chuckles.

In 2011 the play was brought back to Broadway with Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe in the lead. I wouldn’t be surprised if a remake of the film version comes out at some near point although nothing has been announced. Either way this film stands fine on its own and although never mentioned amongst the classic musicals I think it should be.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1967

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: David Swift

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

4 responses to “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)

  1. I was in this in high school. I don’t really remember much about though. I think I was the narrator.

  2. Joseph Kearny

    One of the best film musicals of the 60s and far better than duds like Camelot, Star, Paint Your Wagon, Dr. Doolittle, Hello Dolly, Finian’s Rainbow, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang all of which provided the nails in the coffin of movie musicals.

  3. Pingback: Beer (1985) | Scopophilia

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