Revisited: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

J. Pierrepont Finch (Robert Morse) buys a book, How to Succeed in Business, describing in step-by-step fashion how to rise in the business world. The ambitious young window cleaner follows its advice carefully. He joins the “World-Wide Wicket Company” and begins work in the mailroom. Soon, thanks to the ethically questionable advice in the book, he rises to Vice-President in Charge of Advertising, making sure that each person above him gets either fired or moved or transferred within the company.

Finch begins to fall in love with Rosemary Pilkington, a secretary at the company. Finch finds out that the president of the company, J. B. Biggley, has made advances towards Hedy LaRue, a beautiful but incompetent woman the company has hired. Finch uses this information to assist his climb on the corporate ladder.

Biggley’s annoying nephew, Bud Frump, also takes advantage of the situation and tries to get to the top before Finch. By story’s end, however, Finch has become chairman of the board, and might make the White House his next step to success.


Full disclosure…i have an emotional attachment to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. In college, this was one of the musicals in which i was playing in the pit orchestra. Arguably, it was the most fun! Here we are some 20 yrs later and i still find myself humming the tunes. Since this is the film version of the stage musical, i expect to leave with a similar feeling. Will it happen?

What is this about?

Ambitious window cleaner J. Pierpont Finch (Robert Morse) buys a book describing how to get ahead in the business world and decides to test the tome’s methods by joining the multinational but poorly run Worldwide Wicket Co. Starting in the mailroom, he rises to vice president in charge of advertising while falling for secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Michele Lee). Frank Loesser provides the songs, and Bob Fosse choreographs the dances in this fizzy musical.

What did I like?

Color my world. Most films these days, including some of the animated pictures, are so dark that the viewer can’t see or tell what is going on. I am a fan of these old pictures because of how much of a polar opposite they are to what is being churned out today. The colors that were used in the 60s may cause some to throw up a bit in their mouths, but for some of the rest of us, they compliment the atmosphere.

Absurdity. Really? A window washer works his way up the corporate ladder in what seems like the span of a week? The boss’ nephew gets promotions with a call to his mother? These and many other things are just too absurd to believe, even for the 60s! However, it is because of the absurdity that this is such an entertaining film. Without it, we basically have a lighter version of Mad Men. Funny thing…Robert Morse had a recurring role on Mad Men

Music. As this is a musical, the music is a character. Does this character fit in with the rest of the cast? I would say yes it does. To me,  and again, i am slightly biased when it comes to the music of this particular musical, it does. The songs cover topics relevant to the era, they aren’t overly long, the choreography, while simplistic, is entertaining to watch, and many of the tunes are catchy. So, yeah, the music works.

What didn’t i like?

Hedy. The character of Hedy LaRue is written as your stereotypical ditzy female. As one character calls her, a “bubbleheaded tomato”. I’m actually ok with that. My issue is with Maureen Arthur. Ms. Arthur has an attractive body and all (as seen in her treasure girl outfit), but her facial structure put me in the mind of Charlie from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I don’t want to be too critical of someone’s looks because I’m no prize, myself, but for a woman who is supposed to ooze sex appeal, they sure found a very average person.

Hit or miss. I mentioned earlier that i felt the music worked. I still think it does, but not all of the songs are going showstoppers. As a matter of fact, some are pretty meh. This is just the law of averages. For every “Brotherhood of Man”, we get “Grand Old Ivy”, a catchy song, yes, but it feels out of place. There are a couple of other songs that follow this pattern.

Advertising. I felt that the face off with the vice president of advertising, Overton, was a bit rushed. By that, i mean, it is obvious that this guy could have been as much of a rival, if not a bigger one to Finch than Bud, but the brief time that was spend on him and that particular rung of the ladder was so rushed, the antagonism from Overton wasn’t as effective as it could have been.

Final verdict on How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? This is one of those musicals for those that are in the fanbase. What i mean by that is if you were to show this to someone who is not a fan of musicals hoping to change their mind, it probably wouldn’t work. That said, this is a highly entertaining picture, if for no other reason than the nostalgia factor. Definitely worth a viewing or 10!

4 3/4 out of 5 stars


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