How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying | Film Review

Lively satirical musical set in Mad Men’s Manhattan

Are you longing for the third season of Mad Men to start? If your craving is getting too much you might like to try slick and snappy 60s musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which sets to music the Manhattan milieu familiar from Mad Men – a world where men wear grey-flannel suits and women work in the typing pool.

The breezy manner with which the musical sends up the era’s corporate chicanery and heedless sexism, however, couldn’t be further from Mad Men’s deadpan cool. Set to jaunty tunes with such titles as ‘A Secretary is not a Toy’ (sample lyric: Her pad is to write in/ And not spend the night in), the story follows the dizzying progress of boyish window washer J Pierrepont Finch as he uses guile and charm to ascend the executive ladder at the World Wide Wicket Company.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - Robert Morse plays the ambitious J Pierrepont Finch in the 1960s musical

The songs are the work of composer-lyricist Frank Loesser of Guys and Dolls fame, and you can hear echoes of the earlier musical in the score. Based on a 1952 bestselling book by Shepherd Mead, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was a big hit in its own right, yet despite running on Broadway from 1961 to 1964 and scooping seven Tony awards, and notwithstanding the successful 1995 revival in New York starring Matthew Broderick, it’s never quite achieved its predecessor’s classic status.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - Bob Fosse choreographed the typing pool chorus line in the satirical 1960s musical

The 1967 big screen version reproduced the show’s acclaimed choreography (by Bob Fosse) and stars Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee recreated their stage roles for the camera. The gap-toothed, floppy-fringed Morse plays the scheming Finch and provides another link to Mad Men – four decades on, he’s still at the top of the corporate tree as Bertram Cooper, the eccentric, shoeless boss of the TV show’s ad agency, Sterling Cooper.

Vallee, the legendary crooner of the inter-war era, famous for singing through a megaphone, plays How to Succeed’s similarly eccentric boss, company president JB Biggley, and Maureen Arthur is his dim-witted mistress, who boasts she “types like a jack rabbit: 12 words a minute”.

Rounding off the cast is future Knots Landing star Michele Lee as Rosemary, the show’s romantic heroine, who almost matches Finch for manipulation in her efforts to nab her man. That, though, is the extent of her ambition. Mad Men’s Peggy would make mincemeat of her.

Released on DVD on 4th January.

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