Monday, October 20, 2014


Recently I was in the mood for just a fun movie musical to watch, so I dug out my copy of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967). The film is great late 60s fun, and it is kind of like a musical comedy version of the television series Mad Men. The 1967 musical comedy film was based on the 1961 stage musical of the same name, which in turn was based on Shepherd Mead's book.

The film was produced by United Artists and directed by David Swift, with original staging by Bob Fosse. The cast includes Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee (reprising their original Broadway roles), Michele Lee, Anthony Teague, Tucker Smith (in an uncredited role), and Maureen Arthur. The film marks the debut of Lee, who later appeared in the popular 1980s television series Knots Landing.

J. Pierpont Finch buys a book How to Succeed in Business, describing in step-by-step fashion how to rise in the business world. The ambitious young window cleaner follows its advice carefully. He joins the "World-Wide Wicket Company" and begins work in the mailroom. Soon, thanks to the ethically-questionable advice in the book, he rises to Vice-President in Charge of Advertising, making sure that each person above him gets either fired or moved or transferred within the company. Finch begins to fall in love with Rosemary Pilkington, a secretary at the company. Finch finds out that the president of the company, J. B. Biggley, has made advances towards Hedy LaRue, a beautiful but incompetent woman the company has hired. Finch uses this information to assist his climb on the corporate ladder. Biggley's annoying nephew, Bud Frump, also takes advantage of the situation and tries to get to the top before Finch.

All of Rosemary's songs (including "Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm" and "Paris Original") were cut from the movie version. To make up for this "I Believe In You" was given to her for the movie. In the stage play, she does not sing this to him, and the first time it is heard is during the scene where Finch sings it to himself in the executive washroom, but she does a brief reprise of the song after this scene. In the film, she sings the full version in an earlier scene, making Finch's washroom version the reprise.

The scene featuring Robert Morse skipping & dancing down the street on his way to work (immediately after the "Old Ivy" fight song duet with Rudy Vallee) was filmed on location in New York City using hidden cameras and a small earpiece to cue Morse on his timing. The various amused & astonished passersby were not extras, but rather were New Yorkers reacting genuinely to someone dancing to his own tune.

Tony Curtis, who was over 40 at the time, campaigned to get the Robert Morse role, and Dick Van Dyke was briefly considered, but Robert Morse made the movie. Sure, he was not a wonderful singer or dancer, but he is Finch. I can not really picture anyone else doing the role, although the Broadway show has been revived countless times. Another high point of the movie was Rudy Vallee. Vallee, who was a top crooner in the 1920s and 1930s until Bing Crosby surpassed him in popularity, was perfect as well as the clueless company president. It was really the last important role that Vallee had in his career.

My favorite song in the film is one that is barely ever mentioned: "Brotherhood Of Man" was basically the finale of the film where the whole company joins Robert Morse singing. A song that my son and daughter like is "It's Been A Long Day". I guess they like the repetitiveness of the song lyrics, but it is catchy.  Do yourself a favor and watch How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. It's a harmless 1967 romp, and I guarantee you'll be tapping your feet and almost wishing you worked in an office...


1 comment:

  1. I totally agree! We were in the Robert Morse mood and pulled this gem out to watch! Wonderful! Because of youtube we also watched him on What's My Line, TRU, and singing on Mad Men!