Executive Suite

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EXECUTIVE SUITE —-smartly written, well directed, with a powerhouse cast, did well in 1954, coming in 31st at the box-office, earning $3,585,000, covering the $1,383,000 MGM spent on its raft of stars, picking up four Oscar nominations. Smooth and polished, it’s a worthy addition to the cycle of Big Business movies that reflected postwar unease with prosperity’s cost-to-value effect. Profits vs. embolisms, cigarettes & martinis, sharks cruising the water cooler.*

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The head of a furniture manufacturing company collapses from a stroke and the array of VPs position themselves for a power struggle to see who gets the biggest chair at the end of the nicest table. All but one are men, of course; their wives and mistresses push and pull from the sidelines. The embittered, near-suicidal spouse of the late owner figures in the vacuum scramble as well, wielding an emotional trump card. Robert Wise directs with cool efficiency, Ernest Lehman’s first screenplay hits the road running.**

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You can’t lose with this boardroom of charismatic actors: William Holden, Fredric March, Barbara Stanwyck, June Allyson, Walter Pidgeon, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Shelley Winters. All are fine, meshing with precision: oily March and sleazy Calhern get the highest marks, the latter’s acidic sparring with his mistress is choice. Holden was having a banner year, with Sabrina, The Bridges At Toko-Ri and The Country Girl.  I guess she warmed up for it with The Stratton Story, but, boy, June Allyson is pretty dang impressive pitching and catching a baseball.

Nina Foch was AA-nominated for  Supporting Actress (it’s her best work); the other nods were for Cinematography, Art Direction and Costume Design. There is no music score, only ambient city sounds and a portent-tolling bell back the credits. 104 minutes, with Dean Jagger, Lucy Knoch, Tim Considine, William Phipps, Harry Shannon, John Banner, Willis Bouchley, John Doucette, Hamilton Camp and silent star May McAvoy—-speaking of grateful industries, the one-time leading lady of the original Ben-Hur and The Jazz Singer is tossed an uncredited bit part.

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* We won the war— so we could…work ourselves to death?  This engaging skyscraper soaper wasn’t the first of the post-WW2 dramas that dealt with the sour aftertaste of the American business boom. That might be 1947s swipe at advertising, The Hucksters. The 1954 competitor, Woman’s World, notched it a few spots for receipts, and also featured a strong cast (including Allyson, having a big season with The Glenn Miller Story). Among the lot, critics generally give most praise to the 1956 Patterns, while that year’s The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit was the most profitable with audiences asked to alternately jeer or cheer the management migraines and elevator etiquette of those bigwigs who made their own livelihoods secure or servile.

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**Ernest Lehman worked on Sabrina that same year, launching a string of high-profile assignments. MGM paid him $600 a week for this: two years later he was earning 100 times as much on The King And I .  Lehman gave us the screenplays for Somebody Up There Likes Me, Sweet Smell Of Success, North By Northwest, West Side Story, The Sound Of Music and Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?  Promotion earned.

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