For today’s guest post, Classic Film and TV Cafe’s Rick Armstrong presents his picks for the best business flicks:
1. Patterns (1956). What would you do if you worked for the world’s worst boss? If you answered “quit, of course,” then this movie is for you! Last year, I showed Patterns to a group of senior managers and we spent over an hour discussing it. Van Heflin portrays a promising junior executive who gets promoted to vice president at Ramsey & Co. He soon realizes that the company’s ruthless head (Everett Sloane) wants to push a decent, but now ineffective, older executive into retirement. When the latter takes a hard stand, Ramsey makes his life hell. But here’s the catch: Ramsey truly has the best interests of the company at heart. Rod Serling adapted his own acclaimed television play.
2. Executive Suite (1954). When the president of Tredway, the nation’s third-largest furniture manufacturer, dies unexpectedly, two executives (Fredric March and William Holden) battle each other for the control of the company. I’ve also referenced this engrossing look at corporate politics in the real world. It provides an interesting discourse on quality (represented by Holden’s engineer) vs. profits (March’s VP of finance). It also raises an interesting point about career progression. If you don’t want someone one else as your boss, are you willing to step up and do the job yourself?
3. The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956). Judy Holliday is sublime as Laura Partridge, a (very) minority stockholder in a major corporation who keeps questioning the company’s crooked board members during its public meetings. To keep her from badgering them, the board members hire Miss Partridge as their Director of Shareholder Relations—a “do nothing” job until she decides to make something of it. It’s my favorite Judy Holliday comedy, but also a sharp satire about the power of stockholders.
4. Other People’s Money (1991). Danny DeVito stars as Larry the Liquidator, a corporate raider who targets a struggling company run by a kindly executive (Gregory Peck) who cares deeply about his employees. Larry, on the other hand, just wants to make money for stockholders–and himself. Peck and DeVito share a great scene at the climax in which each of their characters makes a compelling case for his viewpoint.
5. The Man in the White Suit (1951). Alec Guinness plays Sidney Stratton, a research chemist who invents a fiber that never gets dirty and never wears out. Sounds like a marvelous invention, right? Well, the textile industry–to include both management and the union–isn’t thrilled at all. Naturally, Sidney’s white suit will bankrupt companies and eliminate jobs. Since this is an Ealing comedy, there’s a witty ending that (sort of) works for everyone. Still, it makes one wonder how many great inventions may have been stifled in the real world!
Note: I focused my picks on movies that deal with traditional businesses. Yes, you could make the argument that The Godfather is a film about a family-run business, but I think it’s outside the scope of this list. Likewise, businesses play an important role in films like Citizen Kane, Mildred Pierce, and The Bad and the Beautiful. I still wouldn’t call them movies about big business.