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Monday, June 10, 2013

'Executive Suite:' 60 Year-old Study Of Corporate Greed Still Highly Timely

Executive Suite
Warner Archive DVD release of the 1954 drama, hold the melo, "Executive Suite" gives both TCM junkies and anyone who likes a good drama a chance to see a lesser-known gem from a great era for film drama.

The first interesting relevant element of this Warner release is that MGM, which had a long-standing highly competitive rivalry with Warner Brothers when "Suite" first hit theaters, released this John Houseman produced film. Corporate dealings truly make strange bedfellows.

It is even more amazing that this study of corporate executives manipulating their company's stock and battling for leadership of the business even before their predecessor's body even made it to the morgue would be timely if it was virtually remade today. A screenwriter would only need to change segments about sending a telegram and trying to reach the executives on landlines to calling their cells and sending email.

Accomplished Hollywood director Robert Wise cleverly opened the film with POV shots from the perspective of furniture manufacturer Tredway Corporation's president Avery Bullard. Bullard's face never appeared on screen, but he was seen sending a telegram calling for a board of directors meeting minutes before falling dead in the street.

Wise soon then introduced us to the candidates for Bullard's position by having Bullard's secretary go to their offices to announce the last-minute meeting. We learned each man's name and position by seeing his name on his office door. With one exception, we learned about each man's personality through the secretary's brief conversation with that vice-president's secretary.

The consistently compelling action then focused on the vice-presidents either campaigning for the corner office or working on alliances to secure the required four of seven votes that achieving that goal required. That campaigning ranged from truly friendly persuasion, to good ole fashioned horse trading, to blackmail.

The top contenders became dedicated wholesome family man hands-on V.P. of Manufacturing McDonald "Don" Walling, played by then top star William Holden, and corporate controller Loren Shaw, played by former top star Fredric March. Future Disney star and an original "My Three Sons" Tim Considine played Walling's young son. Coincidentally Considine's "Suite" and "Sons" characters were both named Mike.

Shaw was the ultimate bottom-line guy and had business ethics comparable to Donald Trump. March's portrayal of that character and Holden's interpretation of Walling were so skilled that a scene in which Shaw's victory seemed inevitable prompted literal boos. The strength of that reaction prompted a sincere desire to travel back in time to experience watching this film in a theater full of people.

The suspense continued until the last minutes of the film, and a last-ditch effort heartfelt speech by Walling was reminiscent of the "I'll be There" speech in "The Grapes of Wrath" and just about every monologue that Jimmy Stewart delivered when his character was at or near rock bottom. The fact that Holden's speech and "Suite" overall never received true classic status reflected the strong competition during a genuine renaissance regarding Hollywood dramas.

The incredible quality of "Suite" prompted watching all of the extras. The truly artfully done theatrical trailer was a must-see.

Another extra, which was a truly live-action cartoon short, that  depicted a man's efforts to play golf and enjoy other recreation was fall-on-the floor funny and provided a good introduction to the comic brilliance of the truly creative genius Pete Smith. Scenes in which the hapless star jumped into a boat that lacked a bottom and had to deal with his golf ball lodging in a very tall tree were classic comedy.

The "Billy Boy" cartoon prompted skepticism until the opening credits showed that animation uber-god Tex Avery created it. This rather simple but hilarious story had an essentially human wolf contend with a very cute baby billy goat who literally ate everything within reach of his mouth. That goat actually chewing the scenery evoked memories of Avery's classic Daffy Duck cartoon "Duck Amuck."

The bottom line is that "Suite" truly is a must-own for any fan of good drama that artfully walks the line between exuberant emoting and melodrama.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Executive Suite" is encouraged to email me.