How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday March 24, 2017

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Though released in 1967, David Swift's film version of the Broadway musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" has a vibe about it that feels like it comes from a decade earlier. No wonder: The novel, by Shepherd Mead, was published in 1952, and the subsequent Broadway adaptation -- by "Guys and Dolls" team Abe Burrows and Frank Loesser, together with Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert -- opened in 1961. The film retains a vivid comic energy and a design sense that's poised between the decades, from the bold color combos of the cavernous sets to the film's larky take on America's corporate culture of the time.

Whether calculated or not, Twilight Time's new Blu-ray edition of the film coincides quite nicely with this cultural moment: "How to Succeed" is both a tonic and a comment on the times. As essayist Julie Kirgo points out in the liner notes, there's something altogether too a propos to the way the film's protagonist -- a whirling dervish of conniving energy named J. Pierpont Finch (Robert Morse) -- gets ahead in life, his ambition so untrammeled he even entertains a vision of taking on the presidency of the United States.

Finch, like a signing, dancing, charming amoeba, has a way of sliding up the corporate ladder, subsuming whatever department he finds himself assigned to and bumping his superiors out of the way. His secret weapon: A paperback by the title "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," a guidebook stuffed full of useful tips on how to apply for a job, look busy in that job, and shift the blame onto others when you do the job wrong. Within the space of a couple of weeks, Finch has traded in his dead-end gig as a window washer for the leadership of a worldwide corporation.

The story is thoroughgoing satire, but it also includes a potentially redemptive romance. The only thing Finch might remotely care about more than his career is the love of Rosemary (Michele Lee), who becomes smitten with him at first sight. His own feelings take a little longer to ripen; in the meantime, the film's innate sexism presents him, and us, with a cadre of slinky secretaries, the most jigglesome of whom, Hedy LaRue (Maureen Arthur), is having an affair with the big boss, Jasper B. Biggley (Rudy Vallee -- yes, that Rudy Vallee!).

Meantime, the forces of nepotism being what they are, Finch finds himself in ruthless competition with the boss' nephew, Bud Frump (Anthony Teague). As Kirgo notes, Teague seems to use the same methods that Finch does for his self-advancement -- not because he has a book telling him what to do to get ahead, but out of native ability (which is, arguably, worse). Picaresque, visually witty, and boundlessly energetic, this is a film from an earlier, more prosperous America that speaks with uncanny precision to the one we live in now.

This release offers a few special features, including the music on its own isolated track -- yes, that means you hear the show's songs, including "Rosemary," "I Believe in You," and "Brotherhood of Man." Two short features interview Morse and Lee, who reminisce about the film's production.

Thanks to a crystal-clear 1080p hi-def transfer (with just the occasional transient imperfection), this cinematic chestnut looks as fresh as it feels, with the colors shining -- everything from Maureen Arthur's orange lipstick to the costumes to the interiors of the company's offices (which seem to sport every color of the rainbow) has that slightly faded-yet-vibrant look. What was a cult film before is now essential viewing, and wicked fun to boot.

"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"



Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.