The Barefoot Executive (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chimp picks the hits.

Stuck working in a television network’s mailroom, Steven (Kurt Russell) longs for his big-break into the programming department as his previous attempts to impress upper management (Harry Morgan, Joe Flynn) have all failed. Then his girlfriend Jennifer (Heather North) is put in charge of taking care of her neighbor’s chimp while they are away. To Steven’s surprise the chimp shows an uncanny ability to know which TV shows will be a success and which will flop. He decides to use the chimp’s talents and pretend that they are his own, which he hopes will finally let him climb up the corporate ladder.

This film is a little bit different from all the other Disney flicks from that era in that there aren’t the slapstick hijinks or the patented car chase. The emphasis is instead on satire that for the most part hits the mark. It also has a protagonist that isn’t so squeaky clean either. Russell’s character is more than willing to lie and even cheat if he thinks it can help him move ahead and although he has a slight tinge of guilt about it’s never enough to get him to completely mend his ways, which helps to make him seem more human and the situation more believable.

Joe Flynn is quite funny in support. He was a comic character actor who had a great ability to play both exasperated authority types as well as meek subordinates and here he does both. He also has an amusing scene with Wally Cox on top of a ledge of a high rise building and I couldn’t help but think about the irony as I watched these two carry out the scene that only three years after this film’s release these otherwise healthy looking middle-aged men would both be dead. There’s also the novelty of seeing two alumni from ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ appear here with Hayden Rorke, who played Dr. Bellows on the TV-show and a TV exec here, and Bill Daily who ironically plays an airplane navigator, which he also later did on ‘The Bob Newhart Show’.

The film’s funniest moment though is actually just a throwaway bit where a news reporter, played by Jack Smith, goes out and gets the opinions of people on the street about their take on the rumors that a chimp is picking the TV shows that they watch. He interviews one woman (Iris Adrian) who at first scoffs at the notion, but then thinks about how all of her favorite shows get cancelled and how so many stupid ones gets put on the air and then comes to the conclusion that a monkey running the network makes perfect sense. It brought to mind a memoir written by legendary screenwriter William Goldman detailing in his opinion how studio execs really don’t have any clue what film will become a hits, which becomes the film’s best joke as in all honesty you’d have just as much luck with a chimp picking the stuff as you would a person.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Robert Butler

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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