How to Succeed in the Musical Business
Based upon the award wining play, which in turn was inspired by the Shepherd Mead novel of the same name "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying" is the 1967 attempt to adapt the humorous musical about corporate American into a movie. I say attempt but in fact it does it quite marvellously, spoofing the business world perfectly, the corporate back stabbing and delivering the vitality and humour which makes the play still a favourite today. Although it has to be said that with what these days would be classed as sexist and un-pc elements such as the song entitled "A Secretary is Not a Toy," it is certainly a movie and musical of it's time.
In "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying" Robert Morse stars as J. Pierpont Finch a young window cleaner who having brought a book called "How To Succeed In Business" decides to follow it's advice and tricks his way into a job at the World Wide Wicket Company. From the mail room Finch soon manages to worm his way up the corporate ladder following the advice given in the book to manoeuvre his way into the role of Vice-President in Charge Of Advertising, even if it means getting someone the sack to create a position. He also finds himself falling for cute secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Michele Lee) but has to watch his back as Bud Frump (Anthony Teague) the snivelling nephew of CEO J.B. Biggley (Rudy Vallee) is as devious and corrupt as he is.
"How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" is definitely a movie which transports you back in time to the 60's and captures the feel of the era with a choice of vibrant colours and acting which to be honest is just as vibrant. The storyline stays very true to the actual play and David Swift who as well as directing wrote the screenplay manages to capture the feel of the stage musical, keeping things bouncing along and giving the sort of transition between scenes that feels like you are in a theatre watching the play for real.
But it is the humour, the entertainment factor which really makes "How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" such a pleasure and as already mentioned being a product of the 60s there are various scenes which feel today a little un-pc, such as the women in the secretarial pool doing their make up whilst singing "A Secretary is Not a Toy,". But it is also the characters, slightly exaggerated to be humorous but still real enough so you can relate to them such as the wonderful, slightly bumbling J.B. Biggley who is permanently flustered as he tries to juggle work, wife and his stereotypical dumb secretary/ mistress.
It's not all perfect and "How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" has moments which appear to lose momentum, dragging down the humour such as the romance between Finch and Rosemary, but these are really just minor grumbles in what otherwise is a marvellous musical.
Being a musical "How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" is littered with memorable tunes, such as "The Company Way" and "How To" which stick in your mind long after the movie has finished. The same with the choreography which is completely 60's with leg kicking and shoulder hunching, but helps actually set the mood for the musical. Yes now it may seem a little cheesy, but it all works well making you smile whenever a dance or musical moment crops up and there are plenty of them.
The cast to "How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" are a major part of the reason why it is such good fun, especially the bouncy Robert Morse who as the central figure of J. Pierpont Finch leads the musical with gusto. His character really is not someone who should endear us to him; he's a sly corporate back stabber with one aim to get to the top no matter who he treads on to get there. But Morse makes him surprisingly charming with a toothy grin that you do end up rooting for him in the corrupt corporate world of J.B. Biggley WWW co. (World Wide Wickets Company).
Other memorable performances come from Rudy Vallee as the uptight and flustered J.B. Biggley and also Michele Lee who has a slight Doris Day like quality to her as Rosemary; well it's what you really expect from a 60s musical. Plus there are others such as Anthony Teague as Biggley's snivelling nephew Bud Frump and the glorious Maureen Arthur as Hedy.
What this all boils down to is that "How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" is a glorious musical, expertly adapted from the stage play onto the big screen, capturing the atmosphere of not only a theatre production but also the era. Whilst it is certainly a product of it's time, with various scenes delivering humorous moments which many would consider un-pc, sexist and offensive in this day and age the tale of corporate America and the general parodying of the "How to ...."/ self-help industry is as current and amusing as ever.