Here’s one of my periodic DVR alerts, if you happen to see this before 11 a.m. Central time on Sunday, the 29th: Turner Classic Movies will be airing a terrific movie, “Executive Suite” (1954), starring William Holden, June Allyson and Barbara Stanwyck.
The movie has to do with the boardroom politics following the death of the president of a furniture manufacturing firm. Don Walling, an engineer played by Holden, doesn’t really aspire to the job, but he gets involved in order to oppose another candidate, whose slash-and-burn policies might make money in the short run but who Walling thinks would ultimately ruin the company.
It’s really interesting because the movie is, in some ways, a celebration of capitalism, something that’s not always depicted well in popular culture — but also a plea for the right kind of capitalism, one that has compassion, a conscience and a long-term view. The movie’s antagonist, played by Frederic March, thinks the company can make a bigger profit by focusing on shoddy merchandise. Holden believes that high-quality products and customer satisfaction are the key to long-term success, and that while there’s a place for a value-priced line in the company’s output, alongside the premium merchandise, it should be more driven by innovation than by corner-cutting.
“Executive Suite” makes an interesting companion to “Patterns,” written by Rod Serling, which came out in 1956, two years after “Executive Suite” (Serling’s script had been a live TV drama in 1955). “Patterns” is also about boardroom politics, and about a rising executive’s efforts to counter ruthless business practices with a more human approach. Van Heflin plays the protagonist in that one. It also turns up on TCM every now and then. Film critic Leonard Maltin calls “Patterns” much better than “Executive Suite,” but I think I like both of them.
I checked the TCM website and don’t find any upcoming airings of “Patterns,” although I’m sure it will pop back up eventually.
“Executive Suite,” by the way, is also notable for its music score — it didn’t have one, which is quite unusual for a film of that era. There’s no music at all, not even during the opening credits.