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