Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1954. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on the play by Cameron Hawley. Cinematography by George J. Folsey. Produced by John Houseman. Production Design by Edward C. Carfagno, Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Helen Rose. Film Editing by Ralph E. Winters. Academy Awards 1954.
The president of a furniture-making corporation drops dead of a heart attack on the streets of New York not long after sending out a meeting request to his top executives. When the businessmen in question arrive and their boss never shows, they’re incredibly worried until they find out the bad news. There’s no time for mourning, however, since the power game of succession begins immediately, pitting hard-working engineer William Holden against emotionless statistics master Fredric March for the newly empty top slot in the company. Hanging in the balance is the sympathy of Paul Douglas, who has enough problems considering he’s cheating on his wife with his secretary (Shelley Winters), and Barbara Stanwyck, whose father was the original president of the company and whose massive stock holdings make her an important member of the decision-making process. Nina Foch has a strong appearance as the deceased’s devoted secretary in a film that captures the business world so accurately that only the clothing and décor seem dated. The politics of business hasn’t changed much in the decades since the film, which takes place entirely over a twenty-four hour period, was made, and that is what makes it worth watching despite a sluggish pace and a lack of invigorating characters. Holden is strong but is not stretching himself beyond his usual sensible handsome persona, while Stanwyck is the only really fiery character, a collection of nerves and insecurities whose fate really does inspire questions.