Movie: How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967)

Did you wistfully watch Mad Men, secretly longing for the days of long rows of desks on floor after floor of entirely glass-fronted skyscrapers in New York City?  Does old advertising for, and items related to, Pan Am airlines have you despairing over the current state of air travel, which is basically a bus with wings?  Do you miss the days when people at least had the choice to smoke indoors? 

Then you are likely a good audience for How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, a 1967 musical that skewers that era, while also secretly celebrating it somewhat.

The film starts with Robert Morse buying the titular paperback at a newsstand.  He is reading the book as he enters a skyscraper and steps into an elevator, over which we hear him in voiceover reading the text.  He exits at the roof, where it is revealed he is a window washer.  After the window washing lift descends a few floors, he casually opens a window and steps into the lobby of a company.

And we’re off on a madcap satire, where the book’s guidance assists Morse in conniving his way into the organization and all the way to the top.  And in only a couple of weeks.

Morse deftly handles a role in which he could easily become quite despicable.  Some of his career advancement is through luck, some of it is through duplicity, but he radiates a goofy charm that carries the picture.  His performance is broad, though he still employs some restraint.  I can definitely imagine him animated by Friz Freeling or Bob Clampett.

One especially noteworthy scene is a brief segue that would have been impossible to do in any stage version of this musical: a long tracking shot of Morse in character on the crowded sidewalks of New York, as filmed by a vehicle with hidden cameras.  Seeing the genuine reactions of real people as they watch somebody literally skipping and dancing in public is mercilessly hilarious.

A solid supporting cast rounds out the movie, with everybody successfully inhabiting what are admittedly some rather broad caricatures.  The songs are clever, catchy and often funny.  I rarely notice the dance steps in movies, but I was impressed by Bob Fosse’s choreography.

Dir: Robert Swift

Starring Robert Morse, Michele Lee, Rudy Vallee

Watched on Kanopy