Lost in the decade of Oscar winning Best Picture musicals: West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and Oliver! one musical comedy is a classic example of a hidden gem. This is director David Swift’s 1967 How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a film that is a naturally funny spoof of office politics, has terrific singing, snappy dance numbers (fans of the recent Les Miserables pay attention) and makes a fine tribute not only to National Humor month, but Administrative Professionals Day (April 24).
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a business oriented tale, based on a 1961 Pulitzer Prize winning musical by Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows, Jack Winestock and others, which came from Shepherd Mead’s book. The film features a cast of several of the original Broadway production stars, including lead Robert Morse, and Rudy Vallee. Morse is J. Pierpont Finch, a simple window washer, who one day picks up a paperback manual at a downtown newsstand called How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Within days and a matter of weeks he begins his climb up the executive ladder and along the way falls in love with a beautiful secretary, the lovely Rosemary Pilkington (Michelle Lee).
While the plot of this rather silly comedy tells of Finch’s unbelievable rise to fame within World Wide Wicket Corp. its sometimes satiric humor is still valid to contemporary times. Those who use praise and false interest to schmooze their way to company advancements, those slackers who use family connections to maintain their jobs and lifetime dedicated employees who never reach much success are all touched on. And although the secretarial humor is a bit old fashioned and sexist, the play contains a surprisingly tune “A Secretary is Not a Toy”, noting the frequent harassment women faced on the job.
Frank Loesser previously wrote the words and lyrics for the Broadway smash Guys and Dolls in the early 1950s and his How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying contains many of the same types of hummable tunes, from the unforgettable romantic love songs, like “Been a Long Day”, “I Believe in You” and “Rosemary” and even more sassy, like “The Company Way”, “The Brotherhood of Man”.
In addition, the film contains some the early work of the great choreographer, and soon-to -be director, Bob Fosse. The dazzling “Secretary is Not a Toy” number has several rows of secretaries and office managers zigzagging around the office with the trademark Fosse slouch, curved arm movements, foot shuffling and clicking fingers, all in musical time to the sounds of clacking typewriter sounds. This thoroughly enjoyable musical comedy is well worth an enjoyable two hours of viewing.