A superb film re-creation of Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows’s wonderfully acerbic stage musical, with all of Bob Fosse’s original choreography preserved on film by Dale Moreda.
Robert Morse repeats his Broadway role in a marvellously wicked, devastatingly funny part as ruthless window cleaner J Pierpont Finch, who claws, schemes, weasels and fawns his way to the top of World Wide Wickets, the company run by JB Biggley (played by crooner Rudy Vallee of all people).
Finch quickly lands a cellar job in the mailroom, and three hours later, he’s already in the junior executive pool where he’s destined to “spend the happiest minutes” of his life.
That’s Friday at quitting time. By Monday morning he has his own office and secretary, but he’s already eyeing up his next escalation – running the executive personnel placement and making the first order of business there his own promotion to the advertising upper-echelon.
Two days of that nonsense and he’s managing the whole department.
It’s a dizzy express-ride to success, and Morse’s impish mugging makes it a joy all the way. To daffy comic effect, he flashes a look of hangdog humility and then gratefully nuzzles the hand of his immediate benefactor when it serves his purpose. And, underneath it all, there’s a savage spin on the American Dream.
Michele Lee is extraordinarily winning and vivacious as Finch’s love interest, Rosemary Pilkington; Anthony Teague provides some hand-wringing villainy as the boss’ nephew, Bud Frump; Maureen Arthur contributes some choice comedy as bubble-headed secretary Hedy LaRue (who can type “like a jackrabbit – 12 words a minute”); and Sammy Smith plays two different roles, mailroom supervisor Mr Twimble and the chairman of the board, Wally Womper – the latter an old window-washer himself.
There are gorgeous shots of New York bustle in gorgeous colours and the film was a surprising success considering the source book by Shepherd Mead, which seemed an unlikely base for a musical, let alone one this terrific.
Standout musical numbers include The Company Way, A Secretary Is Not A Toy, college fight song Grand Old Ivy and Rosemary. This also has to be the only musical where the hero sings the love song – I Believe In You – to himself.
J Pierpont Finch
Mr Twimble/Wally Womper