Executive Suite


1h 44m 1954
Executive Suite

Brief Synopsis

When a business magnate dies, his board of directors fights over who should run the company.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Release Date
Apr 30, 1954
Premiere Information
World premiere in Hollywood: 15 Apr 1954
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley (Boston, 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 44m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.66 : 1
Film Length
9,380ft (11 reels)

Synopsis

Outside the Manhattan high-rise that houses Tredway Corporation, a manufacturer of fine wood furniture, company president Avery Bullard suddenly collapses and dies of a stroke. From the executive suite, George Nyle Caswell and Julius Steigel are discussing the vacant executive vice-president position when they see a body being removed by an ambulance. Caswell, who realizes it is Bullard, promptly calls his broker and, anticipating a decline in the company's stock value once word of Bullard's death gets out, puts in a short sale order for 3,700 shares. Bullard's wallet, which he dropped when he was stricken, is stolen by a man on the street, and Bullard is tagged a "John Doe" at the morgue. Meanwhile, a telegram Bullard sent moments before his death, calling for an executive committee meeting that evening, reaches his secretary, Erica Martin. All of the executives are notified of the last-minute meeting, including McDonald Walling, who oversees the company's manufacturing plant and is preparing to test a new molding process. As the day goes on, Caswell nervously scours the late editions in vain for some mention of Bullard's death. At six o'clock, Erica and the executives gather in the board room and wait for Bullard to arrive. Executive Frederick Y. Alderson is called away to speak with Julia O. Tredway, the corporation's major stockholder and Bullard's former lover. Julia says she received a call from Caswell requesting that she privately sell 3,700 shares of stock to an anonymous buyer. When Bullard fails to appear, the meeting is called off. Meanwhile, Caswell is at the Stork Club with his mistress, waiting for Julia's call, when he sees an item in the evening paper about a corpse identified only by the initials "A. B.," and immediately places a call to the police. McDonald returns to the plant and learns that the test of the new process did not go well in his absence. On the way home, he complains to his wife Mary that financial analyst Loren Phineas Shaw focuses on the bottom line at the expense of the company's creativity, and becomes angry when Mary gently reproaches him for his blind loyalty to Bullard. When the Wallings get home, they learn of Bullard's death, and McDonald returns to the office. A stunned Alderson assumes control of the company, but bristles at the easy authority Shaw displays under the circumstances. Shaw tracks down Josiah Walter Dudley, who was supposed to be on a business trip to Chicago, at the apartment of Dudley's secretary, Eva Bardeman. After breaking the news of Bullard's death, Shaw tells Dudley that a board meeting will be held the following evening to elect a new president. Late that night, the Wallings discuss the upcoming election, and McDonald predicts that the majority of the board members will favor Jesse Q. Grimm, adding that Alderson had suggested that he make a bid for the presidency. Mary encourages her husband to leave the company and set off on his own, but McDonald refuses to turn his back on the organization. The following day, Shaw questions Erica about Bullard's relationship with Julia, whose father had run the company before committing suicide. Erica discreetly acknowledges only that Bullard brought the company back from ruin and befriended Julia when she had a breakdown. Meanwhile, McDonald receives word from the plant that the new process finally works but cannot be implemented because of a directive from Shaw. At the office, Caswell calls on Shaw and asks that 4,000 shares of the company's unissued common stock be sold to him at the previous day's closing price. Shaw surprises his colleague by revealing that he knows all about his shady stock deal. Caswell confesses that he lacks sufficient liquid assets to cover the short sale, and offers Shaw his vote in exchange for the stock. Later, Alderson drops by McDonald's son's Little League game with the news that Grimm plans to retire, and McDonald reluctantly agrees to support Dudley in the election. After reconsidering the situation, however, McDonald decides that he will run for president, but Mary is not pleased with the idea. After McDonald leaves, Alderson phones and asks Mary to call the office with the message that he has been delayed while picking up Grimm and would like the vote to be postponed until they arrive. Still disturbed over her conversation with McDonald, however, Mary does not make the call. At the office, McDonald approaches Julia to seek her support, but she bitterly tells him she is empowering Shaw to liquidate her sizeable stock holdings. McDonald angrily accuses her of selling Bullard out, and the distraught Julia breaks down. Moments before the meeting is to begin, Julia tears up the proxy she had given Shaw and takes her place at the conference table. Dudley nominates Shaw for president, but the first ballot is inconclusive because one board member abstains. Mary comes to the office and apologetically delivers the message to her husband, and Alderson and Grimm soon arrive. McDonald speaks passionately about the company, condemning Shaw's short-sighted emphasis on quick profits as "a lack of faith in the future." After McDonald outlines his vision for restoring the company to its former high standards, the board unanimously elects him president. As the meeting ends, Julia encounters Mary in the waiting room and asks her to thank McDonald for saving her life.

Cast

William Holden

McDonald Walling

June Allyson

Mary Blemond Walling

Barbara Stanwyck

Julia O. Tredway

Fredric March

Loren Phineas Shaw

Walter Pidgeon

Frederick Y. Alderson

Shelley Winters

Eva Bardeman

Paul Douglas

Josiah Walter Dudley

Louis Calhern

George Nyle Caswell

Dean Jagger

Jesse Q. Grimm

Nina Foch

Erica Martin

Tim Considine

Mike Walling

William Phipps

Bill Lundeen

Lucille Knoch

Mrs. George Nyle Caswell

Edgar Stehli

Julius Steigel

Mary Adams

Sara Asenath Grimm

Virginia Brissac

Edith Alderson

Harry Shannon

Editor BenEditoritoreck

Chet Huntley

Narrator

Charles Wagenheim

Luigi Cassoni

Virginia Eiler

Western Union operator

Jonathan Cott

Policeman

Robin Camp

Mailroom boy

Kay Mansfield

Alderson's secretary

A. Cameron Grant

Salesman

Bert Davidson

Salesman

May Mcavoy

Grimm's secretary

Willis Bouchey

Morgue official

John Doucette

Morgue official

Esther Michelson

News dealer

Gus Schilling

News dealer

Abe Dinovitch

Cab driver

Faith Greer

Stork Club hat check girl

Mimi Doyle

Telephone operator

Mary Alan Hokanson

Nurse

Paul Bryar

Stork Club waiter

John Banner

Enrique, Stork Club captain

Roy Engel

Jimmy Farrell

Madie Norman

Wailing housekeeper

Dan Riss

City editor

Davis Mcmahon

Reporter

John Hedloe

Reporter

Ralph Montgomery

Reporter

Bernice Simmons

Guest

Helen Dickson

Guest

Nesdon Booth

Guest

Hugh Boswell

Guest

Lucile Curtis

Maid

Raoul Freeman

Avery Bullard

Bob Carson

Lee Ormond

Ann Tyrell

Shaw's secretary

Carl Saxe

Factory worker

Dick Landry

Factory worker

Tom Mcdonough

Factory worker

Kazia Orzazewski

Liz

Burt Mustin

Sam Teal

Helen Brown

Miss Clark

John Mckee

Umpire

Wilson Wood

Airport clerk

Phil Chambers

Toll station attendant

Matt Moore

Servant

Mike Lally

Spectator at ball game

Jack Gargan

George Sherwood

Jerry Sheldon

Gene Coogan

Darren Dublin

Photo Collections

Executive Suite - Group Publicity Stills
Here is a series of publicity stills taken of the all-star cast of Executive Suite (1954). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Executive Suite - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Executive Suite (1954). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Executive Suite (1954) - Number Two Man Walling (William Holden), junior man on the board, consoles assistant Erica (Nina Foch) then checks in with mentor Alderson (Walter Pidgeon), whom he prefers to powerful bean counter Shaw (Fredric March), following the death of the company president, in Robert Wise's Executive Suite, 1954.
Executive Suite (1954) - The Dream Is Dead Still nobody knowing that company president Bullard has died, top designer "Mac" (William Holden) departs the plant after a failed test, with wife Mary (June Allyson), their spat leaving director Robert Wise to join Grimm (Dean Jagger) and wife (Mary Adams), in Executive Suite, 1954.
Executive Suite - It Woud End All This Secretary Erica (Nina Foch) asks vice-president Alderson (Walter Pidgeon) to handle tempestuous majority stockholder Julia (Barbara Stanwyck), nobody yet knowing the boss is dead, in Robert Wise's Executive Suite, 1954.
Executive Suite - He's A Big Man Secretary Erica (Nina Foch) introducing the players, Alderson (Walter Pidgeon), Shaw (Fredric March), Eva and Dudley (Shelley Winters, Paul Douglas) and Walling (William Holden), early in Robert Wise's Executive Suite, 1954.
Executive Suite - One Man Company Director Robert Wise's opening from Ernest Lehman's screenplay, subjective camera (Raoul Freeman as "Bullard") with Caswell (Louis Calhern) and Steigel (Edgar Stehli) chatting, in the all-star corporate drama Executive Suite, 1954.
Executive Suite - We'll Drop That Line! Executive McDonald Walling (William Holden) starts busting furniture, making his point before the board (Dean Jagger, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Paul Douglas et al) in Robert Wise's Executive Suite, 1954.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adaptation
Release Date
Apr 30, 1954
Premiere Information
World premiere in Hollywood: 15 Apr 1954
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley (Boston, 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 44m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.66 : 1
Film Length
9,380ft (11 reels)

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1954

Best Cinematography

1954

Best Costume Design

1954
Helen Rose

Best Supporting Actress

1954
Nina Foch

Articles

Film Comment: Executive Suite


Let other movies start with a bang. Executive Suite (1954) begins with a "bong." Over a series of office tower beauty shots, newscaster Chet Huntley's uncredited voice insists that the white-collar sanctums within are stocked with people just like us. "You may think that those that work there are somehow above and beyond the tensions and temptations of the lower floors," Huntley says. "This is to say that it isn't so!" Hammering the point home, a deep-toned church bell tolls in time with zooming out credits naming William Holden, June Allyson, Fredric March, Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas and the rest of the film's murderers' row of mid-'50s stars and character players.

The behind-the-scenes star power driving Executive Suite is just as formidable. Producer John Houseman spent months coordinating his in-demand cast's availability, while assembling a team of MGM A-listers (including a Vincente Minnelli favorite, cinematographer George Folsey) along with a handful of outside hires. Chief among these was director Robert Wise. Since leaving RKO, where he edited Citizen Kane (1941) and made his directing debut for producer Val Lewton, Wise had ascended the ladder at 20th Century-Fox thanks to a no-nonsense adherence to schedule and budget, and seemingly infinite patience with onscreen talent.

Largely untested screenwriter Ernest Lehman (who went on to write North by Northwest) got the gig condensing Cameron Hawley's 300 pages of bestselling prose. Lehman took full advantage of Hawley's structural thrift (the novel's roughly day-and-a-half time frame is time-and location-stamped throughout the book) while loosening up Hawley's labored language. The para-Shakespearean corporate power struggle that is the main plot of both novel and film begins with the sudden fatal stroke of Tredway Corporation magnate Avery Bullard. Hawley's death scene for Bullard unfolds thus: "A whiplash or pain exploded behind his eyes. Instantly, a giant force was twisting his head to the right until it seemed that the cords of his neck were being torn from his shoulders, disembodying his brain, washing it through the whirlpool of crimson flood and then into the engulfing blackness of a silent cave." In the film, Lehman, Wise, Folsey and an anonymous pair of arms enact Bullard's last moments and curbside demise as series of real-time, uninterrupted, first-person POV tracking shots. It's a wonderfully loopy piece of filmmaking that straps the audience into the narrative driver's seat right up to and including Bullard's swoon to black.

Thanks to a postmortem pocket-picking, Bullard's body goes unidentified by police and unreported at Tredway corporate HQ back home in Pennsylvania. George Caswell (Louis Calhern at his most louche), however, happens to see Bullard die from the window of his office. A major Tredway shareholder, Caswell stays mum about Bullard's death to finagle a short sale of his Tredway stock, anticipating a Monday first-bell price plunge (Bullard died at end-of-business Friday) when the boardroom power vacuum becomes public knowledge. As the clock ticks toward a board meeting, in which the furniture company's fate will be decided, we meet the rest of the deep speaking-part bench of executives, stockholders, board members, spouses, secretaries and those "lower floor" employees name-checked in the intro, and we learn the various positions, rivalries and vulnerabilities handicapping the succession odds to the Tredway throne. Ultimately it comes down to Mac Walling (Holden)--eager to take the company into a future that's bright for shareholder and employee alike--versus Loren Shaw (March), an unctuous bean counter who would strand the Tredway ship of commerce on the rocky shoals of conscienceless profit.

It all climaxes in a boardroom exchange of ballots, bluster and bromides. But Wise, Lehman and company put off that inevitable confrontation for as long as possible. Much of the film's pleasures comes from a generous peppering of two-character scenes that add color and nimbly detail the stakes and allegiances that will play out in the big confrontation to come. A pair of cops shoots the breeze over Bullard's still unidentified personal effects in a gleefully cynical update on Hamlet's gravediggers. A two-hander between Mac and Bullard's scorned mistress Julia Tredway (Stanwyck) veers into gothic territory.

"Executive Suite, a talkie in every sense of the word, had a chance to be a very static picture," the film's editor, Ralph E. Winters, wrote in his memoir. Like fellow cutting-room graduates Don Siegel, Terence Fisher and David Lean, Wise's command over nuts-and-bolts scene geography is effortlessly lucid. Breaking down the finale of Executive Suite, or any table-set scene elsewhere in Wise's filmography (a contentious missionary dinner scene in The Sand Pebbles, for instance) yields a primer in how to liven up and clarify what could otherwise be a potentially dull and confusing combination of talking heads. "Bob Wise knew exactly what he needed in the way of angles in order for a scene to be cut properly," Winters wrote. "Thinking and knowing that movement of the camera would keep the picture from having a static feel, [Wise] had the camera moving whenever he could."

Wise's career-long refusal to tailor specific film material to his own general aesthetics likely cost him the auteur appeal of far less prolific fellow RKO alums like Lewton, Nicholas Ray, Jacques Tourneur and Orson Welles. But could Executive Suite perhaps contain smuggled confessional personal history from Wise's RKO days? His ascent to the director's chair was, after all, made at the behest of management and at the expense of two trusted colleagues. Wise infamously recut and partially reshot Welles's Magnificent Ambersons (1942) under front-office orders, and then replaced behind-schedule Curse of the Cat People (1944) director Gunther von Fritsch outright for his first "Directed by Robert Wise" credit.

"Well, Bob, he's not going to be there Monday morning directing the film," RKO B-unit boss Sid Rogell once told Wise when he balked at helping kick Fritsch to the directorial curb. "Could be you, could be somebody else, but he's not going to be there. What do you say?" Mac Walling would've told Rogell, as he tells Loren Shaw in Executive Suite, to take a hike. Management has no right to "ask a man to do anything that will poison his pride in himself or his work." Robert Wise said yes. Was Executive Suite his mea culpa?

by Bruce Bennett


To read the article at Film Comment and explore the website, Click Here. To learn more about Film Comment magazine, please visit www.filmcomment.com and to subscribe go to www.filmcomment.com/subscribe-to-film-comment-magazine/.

Film Comment: Executive Suite

Film Comment: Executive Suite

Let other movies start with a bang. Executive Suite (1954) begins with a "bong." Over a series of office tower beauty shots, newscaster Chet Huntley's uncredited voice insists that the white-collar sanctums within are stocked with people just like us. "You may think that those that work there are somehow above and beyond the tensions and temptations of the lower floors," Huntley says. "This is to say that it isn't so!" Hammering the point home, a deep-toned church bell tolls in time with zooming out credits naming William Holden, June Allyson, Fredric March, Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas and the rest of the film's murderers' row of mid-'50s stars and character players.The behind-the-scenes star power driving Executive Suite is just as formidable. Producer John Houseman spent months coordinating his in-demand cast's availability, while assembling a team of MGM A-listers (including a Vincente Minnelli favorite, cinematographer George Folsey) along with a handful of outside hires. Chief among these was director Robert Wise. Since leaving RKO, where he edited Citizen Kane (1941) and made his directing debut for producer Val Lewton, Wise had ascended the ladder at 20th Century-Fox thanks to a no-nonsense adherence to schedule and budget, and seemingly infinite patience with onscreen talent.Largely untested screenwriter Ernest Lehman (who went on to write North by Northwest) got the gig condensing Cameron Hawley's 300 pages of bestselling prose. Lehman took full advantage of Hawley's structural thrift (the novel's roughly day-and-a-half time frame is time-and location-stamped throughout the book) while loosening up Hawley's labored language. The para-Shakespearean corporate power struggle that is the main plot of both novel and film begins with the sudden fatal stroke of Tredway Corporation magnate Avery Bullard. Hawley's death scene for Bullard unfolds thus: "A whiplash or pain exploded behind his eyes. Instantly, a giant force was twisting his head to the right until it seemed that the cords of his neck were being torn from his shoulders, disembodying his brain, washing it through the whirlpool of crimson flood and then into the engulfing blackness of a silent cave." In the film, Lehman, Wise, Folsey and an anonymous pair of arms enact Bullard's last moments and curbside demise as series of real-time, uninterrupted, first-person POV tracking shots. It's a wonderfully loopy piece of filmmaking that straps the audience into the narrative driver's seat right up to and including Bullard's swoon to black.Thanks to a postmortem pocket-picking, Bullard's body goes unidentified by police and unreported at Tredway corporate HQ back home in Pennsylvania. George Caswell (Louis Calhern at his most louche), however, happens to see Bullard die from the window of his office. A major Tredway shareholder, Caswell stays mum about Bullard's death to finagle a short sale of his Tredway stock, anticipating a Monday first-bell price plunge (Bullard died at end-of-business Friday) when the boardroom power vacuum becomes public knowledge. As the clock ticks toward a board meeting, in which the furniture company's fate will be decided, we meet the rest of the deep speaking-part bench of executives, stockholders, board members, spouses, secretaries and those "lower floor" employees name-checked in the intro, and we learn the various positions, rivalries and vulnerabilities handicapping the succession odds to the Tredway throne. Ultimately it comes down to Mac Walling (Holden)--eager to take the company into a future that's bright for shareholder and employee alike--versus Loren Shaw (March), an unctuous bean counter who would strand the Tredway ship of commerce on the rocky shoals of conscienceless profit.It all climaxes in a boardroom exchange of ballots, bluster and bromides. But Wise, Lehman and company put off that inevitable confrontation for as long as possible. Much of the film's pleasures comes from a generous peppering of two-character scenes that add color and nimbly detail the stakes and allegiances that will play out in the big confrontation to come. A pair of cops shoots the breeze over Bullard's still unidentified personal effects in a gleefully cynical update on Hamlet's gravediggers. A two-hander between Mac and Bullard's scorned mistress Julia Tredway (Stanwyck) veers into gothic territory."Executive Suite, a talkie in every sense of the word, had a chance to be a very static picture," the film's editor, Ralph E. Winters, wrote in his memoir. Like fellow cutting-room graduates Don Siegel, Terence Fisher and David Lean, Wise's command over nuts-and-bolts scene geography is effortlessly lucid. Breaking down the finale of Executive Suite, or any table-set scene elsewhere in Wise's filmography (a contentious missionary dinner scene in The Sand Pebbles, for instance) yields a primer in how to liven up and clarify what could otherwise be a potentially dull and confusing combination of talking heads. "Bob Wise knew exactly what he needed in the way of angles in order for a scene to be cut properly," Winters wrote. "Thinking and knowing that movement of the camera would keep the picture from having a static feel, [Wise] had the camera moving whenever he could."Wise's career-long refusal to tailor specific film material to his own general aesthetics likely cost him the auteur appeal of far less prolific fellow RKO alums like Lewton, Nicholas Ray, Jacques Tourneur and Orson Welles. But could Executive Suite perhaps contain smuggled confessional personal history from Wise's RKO days? His ascent to the director's chair was, after all, made at the behest of management and at the expense of two trusted colleagues. Wise infamously recut and partially reshot Welles's Magnificent Ambersons (1942) under front-office orders, and then replaced behind-schedule Curse of the Cat People (1944) director Gunther von Fritsch outright for his first "Directed by Robert Wise" credit."Well, Bob, he's not going to be there Monday morning directing the film," RKO B-unit boss Sid Rogell once told Wise when he balked at helping kick Fritsch to the directorial curb. "Could be you, could be somebody else, but he's not going to be there. What do you say?" Mac Walling would've told Rogell, as he tells Loren Shaw in Executive Suite, to take a hike. Management has no right to "ask a man to do anything that will poison his pride in himself or his work." Robert Wise said yes. Was Executive Suite his mea culpa?by Bruce BennettTo read the article at Film Comment and explore the website, Click Here. To learn more about Film Comment magazine, please visit www.filmcomment.com and to subscribe go to www.filmcomment.com/subscribe-to-film-comment-magazine/.

Executive Suite


Executive Suite (1954) was producer John Houseman's third major film for MGM. As with The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Julius Caesar (1953, then in production), Executive Suite boasted a star-studded cast, including William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, June Allyson, Walter Pidgeon, Shelley Winters, Paul Douglas and Nina Foch. Though the large A-list cast was in part a throwback to the days of Grand Hotel (1932) and Dinner at Eight (1933), in the main, it was a rear-guard attempt by Hollywood to increase ticket sales in the new world of television. Still, according to Houseman, the cast was selected not on the basis of their star power, but because they could handle the dialogue-rich scenes. Most of the actors had stage experience and were not adverse to the idea of spending an inordinate time on rehearsals.

In the 1950s, Hollywood belatedly turned its cameras on America's new corporate culture. In this it was merely catching up with sociologists like C. Wright Mills, who had examined the world of White Collar as early as 1951. Still, Hollywood was not the university, and Executive Suite was a risky project. The film was based on a book by Cameron Hawley, a one-time advertising executive with the Armstrong Cork Company in Pennsylvania. Dore Schary had secured the book for MGM and brought it to Houseman, who felt that after The Bad and the Beautiful and Julius Caesar, it would complete a perfect triptych of films concerned "with the pursuit of power." But such a topic was not as welcomed by the censors when it aimed its lens on a team of American business leaders, rather than on a Hollywood producer (since, after all, everyone knows how sleazy they are) or a Roman leader (how seditious could a film on Caesar be?). According to Houseman: "Such was Hollywood's timidity during and after the witch hunts that a film about Big Business - a struggle for power among corporate executives - was considered an audacious project when I announced it in the winter of 1952-1953." Production for the film could not begin until Houseman signed a letter for the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) stating that he had never been a communist. But the censors need not have worried, for though this film does indeed criticize mercenary corporate machinations, in the end it is the idealist sentiments of young Don Walling (William Holden) that win out.

Despite the amazing cast, perhaps Houseman's most inspired hire was the screenwriter, Ernest Lehman. This was Lehman's first screenplay, and he was paid the minimum $600 a week. In his autobiography, Lehman recounts: "Finally, after months of struggle, I turned in my first draft screenplay, held my breath, and heard sounds of delighted approval from John Houseman, Jud Kinberg, and most important of all, from studio chief Dore Schary. When it came time to attack the final draft, I felt that maybe, after all, I could write a screenplay." This is a bit of an understatement. Lehman went on to write Sabrina (1954), The King and I (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), North by Northwest (1959), West Side Story (1961), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and Hello, Dolly! (1969). As Houseman notes, just a few years after penning Executive Suite, Lehman "was earning not twice nor ten times but close to one hundred times what we paid him."

For Stanwyck and Holden, Executive Suite was a sweet reunion. They had worked together only once before, on Golden Boy (1939), the film that made Holden a star. On that film, Stanwyck went to bat for Holden when Harry Cohn wanted to replace him. The two became fast friends (he nicknamed her "Queen") and, until his death in 1981, Holden sent Stanwyck two dozen red roses and a single white gardenia every year, on the anniversary of the premiere of Golden Boy. In Executive Suite, Stanwyck is barely on screen, but her presence is unforgettable. According to Stanwyck: "Size has never bothered me. If it had I would not have done Executive Suite. I liked the role and I wanted to do it, no matter how short it was. I think I worked all of seven days." For her role, Stanwyck was awarded her third Laurel Award (presented by the Motion Picture Exhibitors).

But it is Fredric March's portrayal of the conniving efficiency expert Loren Shaw that is most indelible. Given a chance to play against type, March turns in one of his best performances. He gives us a Shaw both life-like and mechanical. As one reviewer noted, "The usually beneficent and positive-spirited March screen character, indeed, is not merely submerged; it is positively obliterated in this brilliant study of a single-minded negativist. . ." Though critics universally praised March's performance, he was overlooked when the Academy Award nominations were announced.

With cast and writer secured, Houseman needed a director. He immediately turned to Robert Wise. The two men had been friendly since their work on Citizen Kane (1941)--Houseman was an uncredited writer and Wise was the film's editor--and Houseman knew that the special demands of Executive Suite called for a director who could leave his ego at the door. With eight major stars, little action and a half-hour scene set entirely around a boardroom table, Executive Suite, according to Houseman, "called for skills in a director that included those of an engineer and a lion tamer." Wise proved perfect for the task and, in fact, his directing style so meshed with Lehman's writing style, that in addition to Executive Suite, the two men collaborated on three more classics: Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965).

Since so much of the film's $1.25 million budget went to the actors, Houseman and Schary opted to rely entirely on stock scenery. All of the interior sets had originally been constructed for other MGM pictures. Some were slightly altered, some were left as is. According to Houseman, "they looked fine in black and white - with a used look that gave them unusual authenticity." Money was also saved by deciding to replace the musical score with what Schary describes as the "sounds of the city - church bells, sirens, the roar of traffic, crowd noises, horns, the squeal of tires, faraway screams of brakes. He [Houseman], as an old radio producer, bought the idea and shepherded the sounds through the hands of the sometimes reluctant sound-department chief, Douglas Shearer."

The film garnered four Academy Award nominations (Best Supporting Actress, Best Black-and-White Cinematography, Best Black-and-White Art Direction, and Best Costume Design). Of this last category, Stanwyck often told the story of how she mistakenly wore one of her specially designed dresses backwards through an entire day's shooting. The dress designer, Helen Rose, realizing that reshooting the day's scenes would be prohibitively expensive, told Stanwyck and director Robert Wise that the dress looked terrific backwards. According to Stanwyck, "Helen Rose is not only a great designer, she's a hell of a lady!" And though the acting was excellent throughout, only Nina Foch received a nomination for her role as a suicidal secretary. She lost out to Eva-Marie Saint for On the Waterfront (1954).

Producer: John Houseman, Jud Kinberg
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman, based on the novel by Cameron Hawley
Production Design: Emile Kuri, Edwin B. Willis
Cinematography: George Folsey
Costume Design: Helen Rose
Film Editing: Ralph Winters
Principal Cast: William Holden (McDonald Walling), June Allyson (Mary Blemond Walling), Barbara Stanwyck (Julia O. Treadway), Fredric March (Loren Phineas Shaw), Walter Pidgeon (Frederick Y. Alderson), Shelley Winters (Eva Bardeman), Paul Douglas (Josiah Walter Dudley), Louis Calhern (George Nyle Caswell), Dean Jagger (Jesse Q. Grimm), Nina Foch (Erica Martin), Tim Considine (Mike Walling).
BW-105m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Mark Frankel

Executive Suite

Executive Suite (1954) was producer John Houseman's third major film for MGM. As with The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and Julius Caesar (1953, then in production), Executive Suite boasted a star-studded cast, including William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, June Allyson, Walter Pidgeon, Shelley Winters, Paul Douglas and Nina Foch. Though the large A-list cast was in part a throwback to the days of Grand Hotel (1932) and Dinner at Eight (1933), in the main, it was a rear-guard attempt by Hollywood to increase ticket sales in the new world of television. Still, according to Houseman, the cast was selected not on the basis of their star power, but because they could handle the dialogue-rich scenes. Most of the actors had stage experience and were not adverse to the idea of spending an inordinate time on rehearsals. In the 1950s, Hollywood belatedly turned its cameras on America's new corporate culture. In this it was merely catching up with sociologists like C. Wright Mills, who had examined the world of White Collar as early as 1951. Still, Hollywood was not the university, and Executive Suite was a risky project. The film was based on a book by Cameron Hawley, a one-time advertising executive with the Armstrong Cork Company in Pennsylvania. Dore Schary had secured the book for MGM and brought it to Houseman, who felt that after The Bad and the Beautiful and Julius Caesar, it would complete a perfect triptych of films concerned "with the pursuit of power." But such a topic was not as welcomed by the censors when it aimed its lens on a team of American business leaders, rather than on a Hollywood producer (since, after all, everyone knows how sleazy they are) or a Roman leader (how seditious could a film on Caesar be?). According to Houseman: "Such was Hollywood's timidity during and after the witch hunts that a film about Big Business - a struggle for power among corporate executives - was considered an audacious project when I announced it in the winter of 1952-1953." Production for the film could not begin until Houseman signed a letter for the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) stating that he had never been a communist. But the censors need not have worried, for though this film does indeed criticize mercenary corporate machinations, in the end it is the idealist sentiments of young Don Walling (William Holden) that win out. Despite the amazing cast, perhaps Houseman's most inspired hire was the screenwriter, Ernest Lehman. This was Lehman's first screenplay, and he was paid the minimum $600 a week. In his autobiography, Lehman recounts: "Finally, after months of struggle, I turned in my first draft screenplay, held my breath, and heard sounds of delighted approval from John Houseman, Jud Kinberg, and most important of all, from studio chief Dore Schary. When it came time to attack the final draft, I felt that maybe, after all, I could write a screenplay." This is a bit of an understatement. Lehman went on to write Sabrina (1954), The King and I (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), North by Northwest (1959), West Side Story (1961), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and Hello, Dolly! (1969). As Houseman notes, just a few years after penning Executive Suite, Lehman "was earning not twice nor ten times but close to one hundred times what we paid him." For Stanwyck and Holden, Executive Suite was a sweet reunion. They had worked together only once before, on Golden Boy (1939), the film that made Holden a star. On that film, Stanwyck went to bat for Holden when Harry Cohn wanted to replace him. The two became fast friends (he nicknamed her "Queen") and, until his death in 1981, Holden sent Stanwyck two dozen red roses and a single white gardenia every year, on the anniversary of the premiere of Golden Boy. In Executive Suite, Stanwyck is barely on screen, but her presence is unforgettable. According to Stanwyck: "Size has never bothered me. If it had I would not have done Executive Suite. I liked the role and I wanted to do it, no matter how short it was. I think I worked all of seven days." For her role, Stanwyck was awarded her third Laurel Award (presented by the Motion Picture Exhibitors). But it is Fredric March's portrayal of the conniving efficiency expert Loren Shaw that is most indelible. Given a chance to play against type, March turns in one of his best performances. He gives us a Shaw both life-like and mechanical. As one reviewer noted, "The usually beneficent and positive-spirited March screen character, indeed, is not merely submerged; it is positively obliterated in this brilliant study of a single-minded negativist. . ." Though critics universally praised March's performance, he was overlooked when the Academy Award nominations were announced. With cast and writer secured, Houseman needed a director. He immediately turned to Robert Wise. The two men had been friendly since their work on Citizen Kane (1941)--Houseman was an uncredited writer and Wise was the film's editor--and Houseman knew that the special demands of Executive Suite called for a director who could leave his ego at the door. With eight major stars, little action and a half-hour scene set entirely around a boardroom table, Executive Suite, according to Houseman, "called for skills in a director that included those of an engineer and a lion tamer." Wise proved perfect for the task and, in fact, his directing style so meshed with Lehman's writing style, that in addition to Executive Suite, the two men collaborated on three more classics: Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). Since so much of the film's $1.25 million budget went to the actors, Houseman and Schary opted to rely entirely on stock scenery. All of the interior sets had originally been constructed for other MGM pictures. Some were slightly altered, some were left as is. According to Houseman, "they looked fine in black and white - with a used look that gave them unusual authenticity." Money was also saved by deciding to replace the musical score with what Schary describes as the "sounds of the city - church bells, sirens, the roar of traffic, crowd noises, horns, the squeal of tires, faraway screams of brakes. He [Houseman], as an old radio producer, bought the idea and shepherded the sounds through the hands of the sometimes reluctant sound-department chief, Douglas Shearer." The film garnered four Academy Award nominations (Best Supporting Actress, Best Black-and-White Cinematography, Best Black-and-White Art Direction, and Best Costume Design). Of this last category, Stanwyck often told the story of how she mistakenly wore one of her specially designed dresses backwards through an entire day's shooting. The dress designer, Helen Rose, realizing that reshooting the day's scenes would be prohibitively expensive, told Stanwyck and director Robert Wise that the dress looked terrific backwards. According to Stanwyck, "Helen Rose is not only a great designer, she's a hell of a lady!" And though the acting was excellent throughout, only Nina Foch received a nomination for her role as a suicidal secretary. She lost out to Eva-Marie Saint for On the Waterfront (1954). Producer: John Houseman, Jud Kinberg Director: Robert Wise Screenplay: Ernest Lehman, based on the novel by Cameron Hawley Production Design: Emile Kuri, Edwin B. Willis Cinematography: George Folsey Costume Design: Helen Rose Film Editing: Ralph Winters Principal Cast: William Holden (McDonald Walling), June Allyson (Mary Blemond Walling), Barbara Stanwyck (Julia O. Treadway), Fredric March (Loren Phineas Shaw), Walter Pidgeon (Frederick Y. Alderson), Shelley Winters (Eva Bardeman), Paul Douglas (Josiah Walter Dudley), Louis Calhern (George Nyle Caswell), Dean Jagger (Jesse Q. Grimm), Nina Foch (Erica Martin), Tim Considine (Mike Walling). BW-105m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video. by Mark Frankel

Executive Suite - William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck & An All-Star Cast in Robert Wise's EXECUTIVE SUITE on DVD


Executive Suite is one of the earlier and better-remembered 'business ethics' films of the 1950s, the decade of The Organization Man and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which was made into an impressive movie version. Jean Negulesco's Woman's World was sort of big business extrapolation of A Letter to Three Wives: to choose its next general manager, a car company evaluates the candidate's wives as its main criteria. Executive Suite avoids some of the subgenre's soap opera excesses by focusing on a boardroom battle for control of a suddenly leaderless company. Honing his reputation as a maker of civilized tough guy movies, director Robert Wise emphasizes the extremes to which executives will go to win a coveted position.

Executive Suite is one of the better films in the boxed set Barbara Stanwyck: The Signature Collection. She's just one player in an ensemble of ten and receives third billing.

Synopsis: Millburgh is a one-company town dominated by the Tredway Corporation. Its President Avery Bullard drops dead on New York's Wall Street, igniting a tempest back at corporate headquarters. The five VPs have equal standing and begin jockeying for position. Slick playboy George Caswell (Louis Calhern) sells his stock short, gambling that Bullard's death won't be detected before the market opens on Monday. Sharp numbers expert Loren Shaw (Fredric March) usurps temporary command, raising the ire of old salt Frederick Alderson (Walter Pidgeon), and canceling the experiments of R&D specialist McDonald "Don" Walling (William Holden). Shaw makes a deal for Caswell's vote, and interrupts salesman Walter Dudley (Paul Douglas) with his mistress Eva (Shelley Winters) to secure his vote as well. Walling's wife Mary (June Allyson) first pushes him to go for the presidency, and then tries to keep him away from it. But the deciding vote will be submitted by the majority stockholder, Julia O. Tredway (Barbara Stanwyck). Julia was Avery Bullard's frustrated long-term girlfriend, and she's in a fragile state of mind.

As lean and businesslike as a takeover deal, Executive Suite builds its story with maximum efficiency. A man falls dead on the sidewalk and before the ambulance comes one of his employees has concocted a scheme to profit from the news. Each candidate for the presidency is judged in terms of the woman in his life. Caswell ignores his trophy date to worry about his rash stock deal. Old Fred Alderson's wife badgers him to pursue the top job that he should have had years ago. Walter Dudley's mistress is a guilty liability. Only the calculating Loren Shaw seems to have no family life; he lives and breathes the company and behaves as if the presidency were already his. Deciding vote Julia Tredway just wants out of the firm that monopolized the attention of the love of her life. When Loren asks her for her vote, she's contemplating suicide.

Quiet Jesse Grimm (Dean Jagger) is a retirement-age VP beyond personal ambitions. Executive secretary Erica Martin (Nina Foch) maintains a professional decorum even as she's sickened by the shark-like behavior around her. It looks like the sweaty Loren Shaw has the job sewn up.

That's where Executive Suite goes soft in a way that identifies it as a product of the early 1950s, when most mainstream movies about The American Way Of Life could be counted on to affirm that justice and virtue always triumph. The obvious underdog winner is young Don Walling, the only one of the VPs who rolls up his sleeves with the rank and file and shares their concern for the good of all. Keen to improve the product, Don is seen experimenting with some kind of chemical process, either as a wood finish or a wood substitute. Since it sounds like Walling is going to make furniture from plastic, he might as well be wearing a halo on his head. The essentially decent Walling grinds his teeth in frustration when he sees the other execs hatching their cheap schemes.

Mary Walling is played by the quintessential super-wife June Allyson, another sign that Don walks on water. Being married to Allyson in a 50s movie is like having the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval tattooed on one's rump. A cheerful morale booster for the male ego, Allyson charms James Stewart's Glenn Miller into finding his magic orchestration, and urges Alan Ladd to blast down more Commie MIGs in The McConnell Story. Her role in Executive Suite is a bit more complex. Writer Ernest Lehman seems very aware of 'booster wives', the hausfrau lobbyists that will do anything to secure the promotion and the house and car that go with it. Allyson's Mary first gives Walling some verbal jabs, spurring him to assert himself on the corporate level. When Don's feelers get a negative response from his associates Mary pulls back on the reins, assuring her man that she's all for him no matter what happens. Then Mary withholds a critical phone message, a choice she almost immediately regrets. The viewer must decide if Mary's efforts are wifely support, or ordinary meddling. (* See Footnote #1 below).

(Spoilers) The final scene of Executive Suite builds considerable tension as the voting for Tredway's new president goes into its final rounds. But the film's grip on the audience fades when Loren Shaw and the 'upstart' Walling go head to head. Shaw topples like a house of cards, fumbling and sweating as he defends his policy of making cheap furniture to hawk at cheap prices. Walling comes on like the wrath of God, smashing a sample of Shaw's crummy product and talking about pride -- pride in the workplace, pride in the knowledge that a superior American product is being made (no tears, please). William Holden puts a feral snarl into his voice to let us know that he has the drive and the guts to do what's best for the company. Loren Shaw just wilts, Julia Treadway is given a new lease on life and Mary will be trading cloth coats for furs. The show ends with the audience ready to rush out and buy Tredway stock.

Robert Wise keeps everything on the rails except for Barbara Stanwyck's 'hysteria' scene, which gets a little too big. Otherwise his actors give better than average work. Shelley Winters is actually subdued, making the most of her standard 'other woman' role. Wise keeps the Little League subplot in its proper perspective, although the script makes it obvious that, like his son Mike (Tim Considine), Walling must go for the big prize because he's a fighter at heart. Good Old Mary helps Mike to practice his pitching and keep his eye on the prize, as if she were raising a pit bull.

Director Wise's films were always technically acute. He repeats his clock motif from The Set-Up with the ringing of the Millburgh church bell. Executive Suite has no music score, a very effective gambit. In the Manhattan opening, the only audio on the soundtrack is traffic noise. (* See Footnote #2 below).

Warners' DVD of Executive Suite is transferred flat full frame, when its aspect ratio is probably 1:66; it's too bad that Warners doesn't normally do 1:66 enhanced transfers. The show still looks good, in reasonably crisp B&W. Director Oliver Stone's commentary focuses on the venality of the various deals on screen, and starts from the assumption that all business is EVIL.

The other extras are a trailer (with music), a painful Pete Smith comedy short and one of Tex Avery's most amusing cartoons, the minimalist masterpiece about Billy Boy, a goat that eats anything. Tex makes the limited animation into a joke; instead of animating his main character to walk over and step into his car, the hillbilly wolf oozes across the screen.

1. Just the next year, José Ferrer directed June Allyson in The Shrike, a filmed play that makes pointed use of Allyson's squeaky-clean image. Allyson plays Ann Downs, a manipulating wife who schemes behind the scenes to benefit her talented but (to her) insufficiently aggressive husband. The bird called The Shrike sadistically impales its prey on a thorn before eating it, and Ann is a malignant monster.

2. By far the most interesting film in the 50s 'business ethics' subgenre is Fielder Cook's Patterns, or Patterns of Power, a much more ruthless story of the unreasonable pressures in company politics. The movie doesn't give a hang about flattering the American way of life, and shows good men thrown to the wolves. Written by Rod Serling, it stars Van Heflin, Everett Sloan, Ed Begley, Beatrice Straight (The Nun's Story, Network) and Elizabeth Wilson (The Graduate).

For more information about Executive Suite, visit Warner Video. To order Executive Suite, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Executive Suite - William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck & An All-Star Cast in Robert Wise's EXECUTIVE SUITE on DVD

Executive Suite is one of the earlier and better-remembered 'business ethics' films of the 1950s, the decade of The Organization Man and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which was made into an impressive movie version. Jean Negulesco's Woman's World was sort of big business extrapolation of A Letter to Three Wives: to choose its next general manager, a car company evaluates the candidate's wives as its main criteria. Executive Suite avoids some of the subgenre's soap opera excesses by focusing on a boardroom battle for control of a suddenly leaderless company. Honing his reputation as a maker of civilized tough guy movies, director Robert Wise emphasizes the extremes to which executives will go to win a coveted position. Executive Suite is one of the better films in the boxed set Barbara Stanwyck: The Signature Collection. She's just one player in an ensemble of ten and receives third billing. Synopsis: Millburgh is a one-company town dominated by the Tredway Corporation. Its President Avery Bullard drops dead on New York's Wall Street, igniting a tempest back at corporate headquarters. The five VPs have equal standing and begin jockeying for position. Slick playboy George Caswell (Louis Calhern) sells his stock short, gambling that Bullard's death won't be detected before the market opens on Monday. Sharp numbers expert Loren Shaw (Fredric March) usurps temporary command, raising the ire of old salt Frederick Alderson (Walter Pidgeon), and canceling the experiments of R&D specialist McDonald "Don" Walling (William Holden). Shaw makes a deal for Caswell's vote, and interrupts salesman Walter Dudley (Paul Douglas) with his mistress Eva (Shelley Winters) to secure his vote as well. Walling's wife Mary (June Allyson) first pushes him to go for the presidency, and then tries to keep him away from it. But the deciding vote will be submitted by the majority stockholder, Julia O. Tredway (Barbara Stanwyck). Julia was Avery Bullard's frustrated long-term girlfriend, and she's in a fragile state of mind. As lean and businesslike as a takeover deal, Executive Suite builds its story with maximum efficiency. A man falls dead on the sidewalk and before the ambulance comes one of his employees has concocted a scheme to profit from the news. Each candidate for the presidency is judged in terms of the woman in his life. Caswell ignores his trophy date to worry about his rash stock deal. Old Fred Alderson's wife badgers him to pursue the top job that he should have had years ago. Walter Dudley's mistress is a guilty liability. Only the calculating Loren Shaw seems to have no family life; he lives and breathes the company and behaves as if the presidency were already his. Deciding vote Julia Tredway just wants out of the firm that monopolized the attention of the love of her life. When Loren asks her for her vote, she's contemplating suicide. Quiet Jesse Grimm (Dean Jagger) is a retirement-age VP beyond personal ambitions. Executive secretary Erica Martin (Nina Foch) maintains a professional decorum even as she's sickened by the shark-like behavior around her. It looks like the sweaty Loren Shaw has the job sewn up. That's where Executive Suite goes soft in a way that identifies it as a product of the early 1950s, when most mainstream movies about The American Way Of Life could be counted on to affirm that justice and virtue always triumph. The obvious underdog winner is young Don Walling, the only one of the VPs who rolls up his sleeves with the rank and file and shares their concern for the good of all. Keen to improve the product, Don is seen experimenting with some kind of chemical process, either as a wood finish or a wood substitute. Since it sounds like Walling is going to make furniture from plastic, he might as well be wearing a halo on his head. The essentially decent Walling grinds his teeth in frustration when he sees the other execs hatching their cheap schemes. Mary Walling is played by the quintessential super-wife June Allyson, another sign that Don walks on water. Being married to Allyson in a 50s movie is like having the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval tattooed on one's rump. A cheerful morale booster for the male ego, Allyson charms James Stewart's Glenn Miller into finding his magic orchestration, and urges Alan Ladd to blast down more Commie MIGs in The McConnell Story. Her role in Executive Suite is a bit more complex. Writer Ernest Lehman seems very aware of 'booster wives', the hausfrau lobbyists that will do anything to secure the promotion and the house and car that go with it. Allyson's Mary first gives Walling some verbal jabs, spurring him to assert himself on the corporate level. When Don's feelers get a negative response from his associates Mary pulls back on the reins, assuring her man that she's all for him no matter what happens. Then Mary withholds a critical phone message, a choice she almost immediately regrets. The viewer must decide if Mary's efforts are wifely support, or ordinary meddling. (* See Footnote #1 below). (Spoilers) The final scene of Executive Suite builds considerable tension as the voting for Tredway's new president goes into its final rounds. But the film's grip on the audience fades when Loren Shaw and the 'upstart' Walling go head to head. Shaw topples like a house of cards, fumbling and sweating as he defends his policy of making cheap furniture to hawk at cheap prices. Walling comes on like the wrath of God, smashing a sample of Shaw's crummy product and talking about pride -- pride in the workplace, pride in the knowledge that a superior American product is being made (no tears, please). William Holden puts a feral snarl into his voice to let us know that he has the drive and the guts to do what's best for the company. Loren Shaw just wilts, Julia Treadway is given a new lease on life and Mary will be trading cloth coats for furs. The show ends with the audience ready to rush out and buy Tredway stock. Robert Wise keeps everything on the rails except for Barbara Stanwyck's 'hysteria' scene, which gets a little too big. Otherwise his actors give better than average work. Shelley Winters is actually subdued, making the most of her standard 'other woman' role. Wise keeps the Little League subplot in its proper perspective, although the script makes it obvious that, like his son Mike (Tim Considine), Walling must go for the big prize because he's a fighter at heart. Good Old Mary helps Mike to practice his pitching and keep his eye on the prize, as if she were raising a pit bull. Director Wise's films were always technically acute. He repeats his clock motif from The Set-Up with the ringing of the Millburgh church bell. Executive Suite has no music score, a very effective gambit. In the Manhattan opening, the only audio on the soundtrack is traffic noise. (* See Footnote #2 below). Warners' DVD of Executive Suite is transferred flat full frame, when its aspect ratio is probably 1:66; it's too bad that Warners doesn't normally do 1:66 enhanced transfers. The show still looks good, in reasonably crisp B&W. Director Oliver Stone's commentary focuses on the venality of the various deals on screen, and starts from the assumption that all business is EVIL. The other extras are a trailer (with music), a painful Pete Smith comedy short and one of Tex Avery's most amusing cartoons, the minimalist masterpiece about Billy Boy, a goat that eats anything. Tex makes the limited animation into a joke; instead of animating his main character to walk over and step into his car, the hillbilly wolf oozes across the screen. 1. Just the next year, José Ferrer directed June Allyson in The Shrike, a filmed play that makes pointed use of Allyson's squeaky-clean image. Allyson plays Ann Downs, a manipulating wife who schemes behind the scenes to benefit her talented but (to her) insufficiently aggressive husband. The bird called The Shrike sadistically impales its prey on a thorn before eating it, and Ann is a malignant monster. 2. By far the most interesting film in the 50s 'business ethics' subgenre is Fielder Cook's Patterns, or Patterns of Power, a much more ruthless story of the unreasonable pressures in company politics. The movie doesn't give a hang about flattering the American way of life, and shows good men thrown to the wolves. Written by Rod Serling, it stars Van Heflin, Everett Sloan, Ed Begley, Beatrice Straight (The Nun's Story, Network) and Elizabeth Wilson (The Graduate). For more information about Executive Suite, visit Warner Video. To order Executive Suite, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Robert Wise (1914-2005)


Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.)

Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.

Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).

Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.

At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.

The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).

by Roger Fristoe

Robert Wise (1914-2005)

Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.) Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films. Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945). Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox. At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story. The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963). by Roger Fristoe

Ernest Lehman (1915-2005)


Ernest Lehman, the acclaimed screenwriter who did everything from stranding Cary Grant in a cornfield (North by Northwest) to seeing Julie Andrews help the Von Trap family escape the Nazis in (The Sound of Music) died on July 2 in Los Angeles following an undisclosed illness. He was 89.

Born on December 8, 1915 in New York City, Lehman graduated from New York's City College with a degree in English. After graduation he found work as a writer for many mediums: radio, theater, and popular magazines of the day like Collier's before landing his first story in Hollywood for the comedy, The Inside Story (1948). The success of that film didn't lead immediately to screenwriting some of Hollywood's biggest hits, but his persistancy to break into the silver screen paid off by the mid-'50s: the delicious Audrey Hepburn comedy Sabrina (1954, his first Oscar® nomination and first Golden Globe award); Paul Newman's first hit based on the life of Rocky Graziano Somebody Up There Likes Me; and his razor sharp expose of the publicity world based on his own experiences as an assistant for a theatre publicist The Sweet Smell of Success (1957).

Lehman's verasitily and gift for playful dialogue came to the fore for Alfred Hitchcock's memorable North by Northwes (1959, his second Oscar® nomination); and he showed a knack for moving potentially stiff Broadway fodder into swift cinematic fare with West Side Story (1961, a third Oscar® nomination); The Sound of Music (1965); Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966); and Hello, Dolly! (1969, the last two being his final Oscar® nominations for screenwriting).

Lehman took his turn as a director when he adapted Philip Roth's comic novel Portnoy's Complaint (1972) for film, and despite some good reviews, it wasn't a commercial hit. He wrote just two more screenplays before retiring: an underrated comic mystery gem for Hitchcock Family Plot (1976); and the big budget Robert Shaw espionage drama Black Sunday (1977). Lehman served as president of the Writers Guild of America from 1983-85. After going zero for five with his Oscar® nominations, the Academy made it up to him in 2001, by presenting him with an honorary Academy Award for his "body of varied and enduring work." Lehman is survived by his wife Laurie and three children.

by Michael T. Toole

Ernest Lehman (1915-2005)

Ernest Lehman, the acclaimed screenwriter who did everything from stranding Cary Grant in a cornfield (North by Northwest) to seeing Julie Andrews help the Von Trap family escape the Nazis in (The Sound of Music) died on July 2 in Los Angeles following an undisclosed illness. He was 89. Born on December 8, 1915 in New York City, Lehman graduated from New York's City College with a degree in English. After graduation he found work as a writer for many mediums: radio, theater, and popular magazines of the day like Collier's before landing his first story in Hollywood for the comedy, The Inside Story (1948). The success of that film didn't lead immediately to screenwriting some of Hollywood's biggest hits, but his persistancy to break into the silver screen paid off by the mid-'50s: the delicious Audrey Hepburn comedy Sabrina (1954, his first Oscar® nomination and first Golden Globe award); Paul Newman's first hit based on the life of Rocky Graziano Somebody Up There Likes Me; and his razor sharp expose of the publicity world based on his own experiences as an assistant for a theatre publicist The Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Lehman's verasitily and gift for playful dialogue came to the fore for Alfred Hitchcock's memorable North by Northwes (1959, his second Oscar® nomination); and he showed a knack for moving potentially stiff Broadway fodder into swift cinematic fare with West Side Story (1961, a third Oscar® nomination); The Sound of Music (1965); Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966); and Hello, Dolly! (1969, the last two being his final Oscar® nominations for screenwriting). Lehman took his turn as a director when he adapted Philip Roth's comic novel Portnoy's Complaint (1972) for film, and despite some good reviews, it wasn't a commercial hit. He wrote just two more screenplays before retiring: an underrated comic mystery gem for Hitchcock Family Plot (1976); and the big budget Robert Shaw espionage drama Black Sunday (1977). Lehman served as president of the Writers Guild of America from 1983-85. After going zero for five with his Oscar® nominations, the Academy made it up to him in 2001, by presenting him with an honorary Academy Award for his "body of varied and enduring work." Lehman is survived by his wife Laurie and three children. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

This was one of the few Hollywood films of the era not to have a musical score. The opening credits are shown to the accompaniment of traffic noises.

Notes

The film opens with a shot of New York skyscrapers and the following voice-over narration, spoken by newscaster Chet Huntley: "It is always up there close to the clouds, on the topmost floors of the sky-reaching towers of big business. And because it is high in the sky, you May think that those who work there are somehow above and beyond the tensions and temptations of the lower floors. This is to say that it isn't so." The first scenes are photographed as if through the eyes of "Avery Bullard," from the time he leaves a meeting until the moment he collapses and dies. Actor Ed Haskett was listed as Bullard in a cast memo in the M-G-M Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Archive, but the character was not seen in the released film.
       In his autobiography, M-G-M's head of production, Dore Schary, wrote that he originally planned to make Executive Suite as one of his own pictures, but turned it over to producer John Houseman because his work load had become too heavy. Schary added that it was his idea to make the film completely without music. "I proposed to John that instead of a musical score we use as 'music' the sounds of the city-church bells, sirens, the roar of traffic, crowd noises, horns, the squeal of tires, faraway screams of brakes," Schary wrote. "It all worked far better than conventional music." A June 5, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Deborah Kerr would star in the film. A September 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item M-G-M casting memos include Frank Ferguson in the cast as "City Editor," but that role was played by Don Riss in the released film. Actors John Gallaudet, Dabbs Greer and Eve March were also listed in M-G-M casting memos, but were not in the completed film.
       Actress Mimi Doyle, who played the "Telephone operator," was director Robert Wise's sister-in-law. According to a modern source, Mimi's twin sister Patricia, Wise's wife, also had a part in the film. In his autobiography, Houseman noted that the film's opening titles ran over a shot of the Sub-Treasury building on Wall Street. Art director Edward Carfagno related in an April 1954 Hollywood Citizen-News interview how Houseman instructed him to construct the set based on the detailed description of the 18th century office building in the novel on which the film was based.
       Executive Suite's all-star cast prompted numerous comparisons in the press to two of M-G-M's lavishly cast films from the early 1930s, Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40), as well as to Houseman's recent films The Bad and the Beautiful and Julius Caesar. "There was one great difference, however," Houseman said in a November 1, 1953 Los Angeles Times interview. "The stars who appeared in Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight were practically all under contract to M-G-M. We had to face an entirely new problem in bringing our large group together, because only two or three had any semblance of an agreement, or even commitment with the studio." A August 2, 1953 New York Times article reported that the logistics of coordinating all the stars' schedules proved so complicated that "for the first time in the studio's history, an arbitrary inflexible starting date was set two months ahead." According to a September 1953 news item in New York Times, Executive Suite set a new record by featuring 145 speaking parts, although only 66 actors are listed in the cast.
       Executive Suite received the following Academy Award nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Nina Foch), Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Costume Design (Black and White) and Best Art Direction (Black and White). The film also received the Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting at the Venice Film Festival. The January 1955 issue of Fortune magazine praised the film in a four-page article titled "The Executive as Hero"-the first time the business publication had devoted that much space to a film, according to a January 12, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item. "The movie has set in motion the conflicts and collisions that give business its true drama," Fortune wrote. According to a January 7, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Foch's performance also earned her the Annual Award of Merit from Executive Secretaries, Inc., a national organization comprising key women in more than two thousand major firms.
       Executive Suite marked journalist Ernest Lehman's first assignment as a screenwriter, although he had previously shared the original story credit on the 1948 Republic film The Inside Story (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Lehman (1915-2005)went on to a highly successful film career as a writer and producer. Executive Suite was also the first film Robert Wise directed for M-G-M. The film was later developed as a television series starring Mitchell Ryan, Stephen Elliott and Sharon Acker. The show ran from September 20, 1976 -February 11, 1977 on the CBS network.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted Best Supporting Actress (Foch) and One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1954 National Board of Review.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Best Ensemble Acting at the 1954 Venice Film Festival.

Released in United States July 1954

Released in United States on Video November 15, 1988

Released in United States September 1954

Released in United States Spring May 6, 1954

Shown at the Venice Film Festival September 1954.

Released in United States Spring May 6, 1954

Released in United States July 1954

Released in United States September 1954 (Shown at the Venice Film Festival September 1954.)

Released in United States on Video November 15, 1988