Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I'm not sure if one can call the "cutthroat-business-dealings" movie a genre, but there are several interesting examples of such films. Movies with some focus on office power struggles and the toll they take on people go all the way back to at least the 30's (EMPLOYEE'S ENTRANCE, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU) and up to the recent past and present (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, WALL STREET, the TV series Mad Men), and there is even a musical that fits the bill--HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, one of my personal favorites. This film was Rod Serling's big breakthrough; he wrote it as a television play and it was so popular, it was repeated within months (a relative rarity back then) and made into a movie the next year. Van Heflin plays a businessman who has just been recruited for a big Wall St. firm by boss Everett Sloane. Heflin doesn't realize it at first, but Sloane is grooming him to replace the aging vice president (Ed Begley Sr.), who helped found the company along with Sloane's father. The first clue is the re-assigning of Begley's secretary (Elisabeth Wilson) to Heflin. Later, in a meeting, Begley opposes Sloane's plan to close some newly acquired plants in a small town, arguing it will hurt the town, but Sloane comes down hard on Begley, saying he's being too sentimental. (It was at this point that I realized why I kept thinking that Sloane looked like Ebenezer Scrooge.) Begley's health is failing and he knows that Sloane wants to get rid of him, but he refuses to retire. Sloane likes the major report that Heflin and Begley turn in, but he insists on having Begley's name taken off the work. For Begley, it's all downhill from there. It's not really a spoiler to note that Begley eventually has a heart attack and dies, but it would spoil your enjoyment of the film to give away the somewhat unexpected way the cards fall for Heflin.

I haven't seen the original TV play, but this theatrical film is shot very much like a TV show, which, considering most of it takes place in boardrooms and hallways and homes, fits the material. The acting is generally fine, with Sloane and Begley getting most of the juicy dramatic scenes; Heflin, though his character is more acted upon than active, remains a strong figure throughout. Elizabeth Wilson as the secretary is a little over-the-top emotionally, as is Sloane on occasion, and Beatrice Straight is good as Heflin's wife. This will feel too dated for many viewers today, but I think the human strengths and weaknesses on display are still all too current. [TCM]

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