How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The Mirisch Corporation 1967.

Before watching the movie:

For as long as it runs, this blog will mostly center on the 80s and later, because that is what appeals to my tastes and what I’m most likely to have something to comment on beforehand. I’ve challenged myself to focus on older films for the last few weeks because I felt they needed more of a focus, but although the films themselves have been positive experiences, it’s mostly just created more work looking for older films and trying to fit my thoughts on them into the format of this blog. My reserve of pre-80s films has almost run out, so why not finish this run off with a musical that’s even on Broadway today?

So… a fun romp in song and dance that satirizes the business world. It sometimes seems like “Business” in the sense that this film presents it was never as keenly analyzed as in the 60s. Then I remember The Secret of My Success, which was made in the 80s and shows a young man climbing the ranks similarly.

It occurs to me to wonder if the children’s books How to be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days and Make Four Million Dollars by Next Thursday draw any direct inspiration from this story, though I doubt it.

After watching the movie:

Window washer J. Pierpont Finch discovers a book at a newsstand on how to manipulate one’s way to the top in business. Literally stepping off his platform and into a large wicket manufacturing company, he parlays an accidental collision with the big boss into a mailroom position and starts his meteoric climb on the executive ladder, armed with confidence, deception, guile, and an enormous amount of luck. It seems the only people he has no influence over are the boss’s sniveling nephew and the secretary whose eye he catches on his first day.

It seems clear to me that the guide book is actually more of a magic feather for Finch. He gets some good tips out of it, but most of his rising status comes from exuding confidence and an ability to scheme on the fly. He wouldn’t have believed he could do it without the book, but it doesn’t seem to have taught him anything that he used. Even if he learned those skills from excerpts the audience wasn’t privy to, his silver tongue still needed help from a prodigious amount of luck. I’m actually fine with this. It makes the point more clearly about how the business world works.

I’m surprised that I’ve only seen Robert Morse in one other role. He’s very good at a mixture of raw innocent charm and sly, confident manipulator. I never got the impression from his other work that he was so good at singing. I was often reminded of Mad Men, which I don’t watch, but is set in the 60s advertising world. I found out after seeing this film that Morse has some sort of role on that show. I hope it’s an intentional reference, even if his character isn’t named Pierpont.

The songs were hit and miss. There was maybe one or two I’d take interest in listening to again, and two or three felt like little more than padding. I could quite do without Finch taking several minutes to stall the big meeting scene to sing a reprise of the pep talk the secretary gave him to his reflection in the executive washroom.


Watch this movie: singing, but perhaps not dancing along

Don’t watch this movie: to pick up any stronger tips than showing confidence and talking fast

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