Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Executive Suite (1954)

Executive Suite is one of the first films to deal with the politics and corruption found in the corporate rat race. After the sudden death of its president Avery Bullard, the viewer is invited in to watch how the relationships between the board members, their secretaries, and their wives unfold into a battle for control of the Tredway Furniture Company. Julia Tredway (Barbara Stanwyck), the chief stockholder and daughter of the firm's founder, is tasked with surveying the candidates for the executive position. Unfortunately, she is also the severely depressed and lonely mistress of Avery Bullard, willing to give up her share of the company as she wants nothing more to do with Tredway Corporation. This is particularly helpful to Loren Shaw (Fredric March), who is so ruthless in his quest to reach the top that he uses blackmail as a means of getting support. He blackmails Josiah Dudley (Paul Douglas), who is having an affair with his secretary Eva (Shelley Winters) and George Caswell (Louis Calhern), who sold stock he did not have in order to buy it back cheap when the news of Bullard’s death reached the streets. McDonald Walling (William Holden) couldn’t imagine any thing worse than Shaw being the president. He’s had past battles with Shaw over manafacturing certain products, Shaw’s tactics of increasing profit and decreasing expenses is harmful to a company that once took pride in what it made. Walling throws his hat in the ring but only finds he is supported by Fred Alderson (Walter Pidgeon). Jesse Grimm (Dean Jagger) is the ideal candidate but he wants to retire and he thinks Josiah Dudley would make a better president than the younger, inexperienced Walling. But Dudley can’t run, he’s being blackmailed by Shaw. Walling turns to Ms. Tredway who is unresponsive to his pleas to assist him in saving the company. Walling ends up berating her, so much so, that to Shaw’s displeasure, she decides to sit in on the nominations instead of being there by proxy. She, along with Alderson, Caswell, Shaw, Dudley and Grimm, listen as Walling gives an impassioned speech that makes everyone, even Shaw realize that Walling is the perfect man for president.

McDonald Walling: The force behind a great company has to be more than the pride of one man; it has to be the pride of thousands. You can't make men work for money alone - you starve their souls when you try it, and you can starve a company to death the same way.

McDonald Walling: [picking up a small, flimsy table] And that's when we started doing things like this: the KF line. Walt, are your boys proud when they go out and sell this stuff? When they know the finish is going to crack, the veneer split off and the legs come loose?

Loren Phineas Shaw: Wait a minute, wait a minute. That's priced merchandise - it serves a definite purpose in the profit structure of this company. We're not cheating anyone.

McDonald Walling: Ourselves!

Loren Phineas Shaw: At that price, the customer knows exactly what he is going to get.

McDonald Walling: This! [flips the table over, and easily tears off one of its legs]

McDonald Walling: This is what Tredway has come to mean! [violently throws the leg against the wall]

McDonald Walling: And what do you suppose the people think of us when they buy it? How do you suppose the men in the factories feel when they make it? What must they think of a management that is willing to stoop to selling this kind of junk in order to add a dime a year to the dividend?

Loren Phineas Shaw: After all, that's only part of our business. Eventually we can cut down on the line...

McDonald Walling: We'll drop that line! And we'll never again ask a man to do anything that will poison his pride in himself or his work.

McDonald Walling: We'll have a line of low-priced furniture, a new and different line - as different from anything we're making today as a modern automobile is different from a covered wagon. That's what you want Walt, isn't it - what you've always wanted? Merchandise that will sell because it had beauty and function and value - not because the buyers like your scotch or think that you're a good egg. The kind of stuff that you, Jesse, will feel in your guts when you know it's coming off your production line. A kind of product that you will be able to budget to the nearest hundredth of a cent, Shaw, because it will be scientifically and efficiently designed. And something you will be proud to have your name on, Miss Tredway.

Full of witty, provocative dialogue and edgy confrontation between the many characters, Executive Suite is so brilliantly turned out that it needed no musical score to add emotion or give emphasis to a scene. I really liked this movie- even though I hated that nobody else liked Shaw. That’s how great Fredric March plays his character. He isn’t really a villain, he’s just blinded by what he thinks is best for the company. Unfortunately, what he thinks is incorrect. His nervous habit of constantly wiping his hands on his handkerchief is endearing, especially when you find he has a secret stash in his desk drawer. At the end of the film, though not everyone got what they wanted, they left the boardroom with optimism and with a sense of being a team. That’s how great Walling’s speech was. Despite his dislike of Shaw’s policy, he still believes Shaw is an asset to the company; Shaw was simply doing the job assigned to him, cut the budget.


  1. I, of course, a newcomer to this blog, but the author does not agree

  2. I am looking for Walling's complete speech online, I think it is important in today's debate of stockholders vs stakeholders.