The classic big business musical comes to the big screen!
Frank Loesser had a hit with the colorful musical production of Guys & Dolls in 1955. Over 10 years later he'd have another hit on his hands—the business musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Starring young Robert Morse and Michele Lee, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying was a goofy satire of how to climb the corporate ladder set to music and dancing. MGM has released the first ever widescreen edition of this charming musical.
Facts of the Case
What's the best way to climb the ladder of success? Just ask J. Pierpont Finch (Robert Morse). He seems to have all the answers.
After finding the book "How To Succeed In Business (Without Really Trying)" on the shelf on a newspaper stand, Finch takes it to heart and starts heading for success. He starts off by becoming a window washer at the World Wide Wicket Company. After a quick entrance from his window-washing balcony, Finch bumps into J.B. Bigley (Rudy Vallee), head of the WWW Co. Bigley inadvertently sends Finch to the Personal Department run by Mr. Bratt (John Myhers). There Finch is able to schmooze a job into the mailroom where he meets his new boss Mr. Twimble (Sammy Smith) and sniveling co-worker Bud Frump (Anthony Teague), who is also Mr. Bigley's nephew.
From this point Finch starts to climb the ladder of succes, going from one brown nose encounter to another. He compliments Bigley's head secretary and becomes a Junior Executive. He talks his way into scoring a corner office. He even starts to romance a fellow co-worker, Rosmary Pilkington (Michele Lee).
Finch is well on his way to the top until some unforeseen circumstances drive a wrench into his works. Oh no! Is J. Pierpont Finch on his way up…or about to tumble a long way down?
Back in high school, I was on the periphery of being in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. I wasn't cast (everyone together with a sad face…awwwwww) but because many of my friends were I hung around rehearsals. This being the case I got to know the show pretty well. It seemed like a pretty enjoyable show to me, but I was more interested in the lead actress (who I took to prom and didn't even get a goodnight kiss from!). So, to muddle though all this exposition, the point is that I'd never seen the actual film version of this show. Finally, I sat down the other night and popped in the DVD.
How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is one of those movies that completely captures the feel and look of its era, enticing the viewer with bright colors and peppy acting. The script (written for the screen) by director David Swift is funny and entertaining , using some un-PC scenarios and deceptive characters to make us laugh and giggle along the way. When you're watching a musical film that includes the number "A Secretary is Not a Toy," you know you're in for a hoot of a time. The pace is quick and lively, leaving no real dull spots in sight. A few of the musical numbers get a bit long winded (most everything that has to do with Finch and Rosemary's love fest), but overall it's a fun watch.
Robert Morse as J. Pierpont Finch plays his character as if he were the ultimate precursor to Michael J. Fox. He bustles around the mailroom and offices with such quick and innocent deviousness it's hard to keep up. His portrayal of Finch is endearing, making us root for him even though he's really not deserving of the positions he's rewarded (or ANY position for that matter).
Other standouts in the cast include Michele Lee as Rosemary, cute as a button (in that '60s sort of way), and utterly charming as she tries to win Finch's affections. Rudy Vallee as Bigley does a nice job blustering and fumbling around as he tries to keep his mistress/bimbo secretary, Hedy (Maureen Arthur), under wraps. Finally there is the double role of mailroom manager Mr. Twimble and the chairman of the board, Wally Womper (played convincingly on both ends by Sammy Smith). The rest of the cast plays the script for the laughs it deserves. The musical numbers by Loesser are classic (with a few duds), including the catchy "Brotherhood of Man," "Stand Old Ivy," and "The Company Way."
How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is presented in widescreen 2.30:1 (non-anamorphic) and the picture looks only passable. Much grain and shimmer was spotted throughout due to edge enhancement, and a bit of digital artifacting was found as well. Colors were vibrant and clear, with only the slightest bit of bleeding and muting found in one or two scenes. Overall, for a film made in 1967, the transfer is decent, though MGM is not known for their stunning work in the DVD field. Audio of Dolby Digital Mono is fine for what it is, with a dialogue and music being clear and not drowning out the other. Once again, it's not stunning as it's A.) from 1967 and B.) from MGM.
The only extra upon this release is a full frame trailer that looks old and very scratched up. I don't see a lot of old trailers from the middle '60s much, so it was kind of a kick to see this, even if the quality is El Suckarino.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some of these songs are so darn cheesy it ain't even funny (well, maybe a little funny). Such songs as "Gotta Stop that Man" and "Rosemary" have the word cheddar written all over there. And while we're talking about cheese, lets yap upon the dance numbers, looking like they were choreographed so chintzy that the actors practically scream "HEY! LOOK AT ME! I'm a DANCER!"
And I'm sorry, but there's just something creepy about seeing 15 old men in suits break into song and dance routines ala the Rockettes.
But…those can be oversights. It was the 1960s, so it's understandable. Who knows what critics with say in 2030 about the movies of 1990 ("The action sequences were good, but did the did people really run and scream like that when chased by a T-Rex?"). Finally, of course, the transfer is only passable, and the extras at a minimum. What can you do but sigh and bow your head.
For the low price of around 20 bucks this is a fun musical time piece from the 1960s, showing that big business and comedy never go out of style. The performances are fun, the songs mostly catchy, and the DVD is in it's original widescreen format…with some minor flaws. Overall fun for the whole fam…err, company!
Hey, MGM…it's a great big brotherhood of DVD…get with the program.
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