Executive Suite (1954)

103 mins | Drama | 30 April 1954

Director:

Robert Wise

Writer:

Ernest Lehman

Producer:

John Houseman

Cinematographer:

George Folsey

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Edward Carfagno

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The film opens with a shot of New York skyscrapers and the following voice-over narration, spoken by newscaster Chet Huntley: "It is always up there close to the clouds, on the topmost floors of the sky-reaching towers of big business. And because it is high in the sky, you may think that those who work there are somehow above and beyond the tensions and temptations of the lower floors. This is to say that it isn't so." The first scenes are photographed as if through the eyes of "Avery Bullard," from the time he leaves a meeting until the moment he collapses and dies. Actor Ed Haskett was listed as Bullard in a cast memo in the M-G-M Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Archive, but the character was not seen in the released film.
       In his autobiography, M-G-M's head of production, Dore Schary, wrote that he originally planned to make Executive Suite as one of his own pictures, but turned it over to producer John Houseman because his work load had become too heavy. Schary added that it was his idea to make the film completely without music. "I proposed to John that instead of a musical score we use as 'music' the sounds of the city--church bells, sirens, the roar of traffic, crowd noises, horns, the squeal of tires, faraway screams of brakes," Schary wrote. "It all worked far better than conventional music." A 5 Jun 1953 HR news item announced that Deborah Kerr would star in the film. A Sep 1953 HR news item M-G-M casting memos include Frank Ferguson in the cast as "City Editor," but that role was ... More Less

The film opens with a shot of New York skyscrapers and the following voice-over narration, spoken by newscaster Chet Huntley: "It is always up there close to the clouds, on the topmost floors of the sky-reaching towers of big business. And because it is high in the sky, you may think that those who work there are somehow above and beyond the tensions and temptations of the lower floors. This is to say that it isn't so." The first scenes are photographed as if through the eyes of "Avery Bullard," from the time he leaves a meeting until the moment he collapses and dies. Actor Ed Haskett was listed as Bullard in a cast memo in the M-G-M Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Archive, but the character was not seen in the released film.
       In his autobiography, M-G-M's head of production, Dore Schary, wrote that he originally planned to make Executive Suite as one of his own pictures, but turned it over to producer John Houseman because his work load had become too heavy. Schary added that it was his idea to make the film completely without music. "I proposed to John that instead of a musical score we use as 'music' the sounds of the city--church bells, sirens, the roar of traffic, crowd noises, horns, the squeal of tires, faraway screams of brakes," Schary wrote. "It all worked far better than conventional music." A 5 Jun 1953 HR news item announced that Deborah Kerr would star in the film. A Sep 1953 HR news item M-G-M casting memos include Frank Ferguson in the cast as "City Editor," but that role was played by Don Riss in the released film. Actors John Gallaudet, Dabbs Greer and Eve March were also listed in M-G-M casting memos, but were not in the completed film.
       Actress Mimi Doyle, who played the "Telephone operator," was director Robert Wise's sister-in-law. According to a modern source, Mimi's twin sister Patricia, Wise's wife, also had a part in the film. In his autobiography, Houseman noted that the film's opening titles ran over a shot of the Sub-Treasury building on Wall Street. Art director Edward Carfagno related in an Apr 1954 HCN interview how Houseman instructed him to construct the set based on the detailed description of the 18th century office building in the novel on which the film was based.
       Executive Suite 's all-star cast prompted numerous comparisons in the press to two of M-G-M's lavishly cast films from the early 1930s, Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ), as well as to Houseman's recent films The Bad and the Beautiful and Julius Caesar . "There was one great difference, however," Houseman said in a 1 Nov 1953 LAT interview. "The stars who appeared in Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight were practically all under contract to M-G-M. We had to face an entirely new problem in bringing our large group together, because only two or three had any semblance of an agreement, or even commitment with the studio." A 2 Aug 1953 NYT article reported that the logistics of coordinating all the stars' schedules proved so complicated that "for the first time in the studio's history, an arbitrary inflexible starting date was set two months ahead." According to a Sep 1953 news item in NYT , Executive Suite set a new record by featuring 145 speaking parts, although only 66 actors are listed in the cast.
       Executive Suite received the following Academy Award nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Nina Foch), Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Costume Design (Black and White) and Best Art Direction (Black and White). The film also received the Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting at the Venice Film Festival. The Jan 1955 issue of Fortune magazine praised the film in a four-page article titled "The Executive as Hero"--the first time the business publication had devoted that much space to a film, according to a 12 Jan 1955 HR news item. "The movie has set in motion the conflicts and collisions that give business its true drama," Fortune wrote. According to a 7 Jan 1955 HR news item, Foch's performance also earned her the Annual Award of Merit from Executive Secretaries, Inc., a national organization comprising key women in more than two thousand major firms.
       Executive Suite marked journalist Ernest Lehman's first assignment as a screenwriter, although he had previously shared the original story credit on the 1948 Republic film The Inside Story (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). Lehman (1915--2005)went on to a highly successful film career as a writer and producer. Executive Suite was also the first film Robert Wise directed for M-G-M. The film was later developed as a television series starring Mitchell Ryan, Stephen Elliott and Sharon Acker. The show ran from 20 Sep 1976--11 Feb 1977 on the CBS network. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
27 Feb 1954.
---
Daily Variety
23 Feb 54
p. 3.
Film Daily
23 Feb 54
p. 6.
Hollywood Citizen-News
19 Apr 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jun 53
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 53
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Aug 53
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 53
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Sep 53
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Sep 53
p. 26.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 53
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Feb 54
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Apr 54
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Sep 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 55
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jan 55
p. 4.
Los Angeles Times
1 Nov 53
p. 1, 8.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
27 Feb 54
p. 2197.
New York Times
2 Aug 1953.
---
New York Times
6 Sep 1953.
---
New York Times
7 May 54
p. 19.
Saturday Review
1 May 54
pp. 33-34.
Variety
24 Feb 54
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Women's cost des
SOUND
Rec supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hair styles
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley (Boston, 1952).
DETAILS
Release Date:
30 April 1954
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Hollywood: 15 April 1954
Production Date:
24 August--25 September 1953
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
19 February 1954
Copyright Number:
LP3980
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
103
Length(in feet):
9,380
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16711
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Outside the Manhattan high-rise that houses Tredway Corporation, a manufacturer of fine wood furniture, company president Avery Bullard suddenly collapses and dies of a stroke. From the executive suite, George Nyle Caswell and Julius Steigel are discussing the vacant executive vice-president position when they see a body being removed by an ambulance. Caswell, who realizes it is Bullard, promptly calls his broker and, anticipating a decline in the company's stock value once word of Bullard's death gets out, puts in a short sale order for 3,700 shares. Bullard's wallet, which he dropped when he was stricken, is stolen by a man on the street, and Bullard is tagged a "John Doe" at the morgue. Meanwhile, a telegram Bullard sent moments before his death, calling for an executive committee meeting that evening, reaches his secretary, Erica Martin. All of the executives are notified of the last-minute meeting, including McDonald Walling, who oversees the company's manufacturing plant and is preparing to test a new molding process. As the day goes on, Caswell nervously scours the late editions in vain for some mention of Bullard's death. At six o'clock, Erica and the executives gather in the board room and wait for Bullard to arrive. Executive Frederick Y. Alderson is called away to speak with Julia O. Tredway, the corporation's major stockholder and Bullard's former lover. Julia says she received a call from Caswell requesting that she privately sell 3,700 shares of stock to an anonymous buyer. When Bullard fails to appear, the meeting is called off. Meanwhile, Caswell is at the Stork Club with his mistress, waiting for Julia's call, when he sees an item in the evening paper about a corpse ... +


Outside the Manhattan high-rise that houses Tredway Corporation, a manufacturer of fine wood furniture, company president Avery Bullard suddenly collapses and dies of a stroke. From the executive suite, George Nyle Caswell and Julius Steigel are discussing the vacant executive vice-president position when they see a body being removed by an ambulance. Caswell, who realizes it is Bullard, promptly calls his broker and, anticipating a decline in the company's stock value once word of Bullard's death gets out, puts in a short sale order for 3,700 shares. Bullard's wallet, which he dropped when he was stricken, is stolen by a man on the street, and Bullard is tagged a "John Doe" at the morgue. Meanwhile, a telegram Bullard sent moments before his death, calling for an executive committee meeting that evening, reaches his secretary, Erica Martin. All of the executives are notified of the last-minute meeting, including McDonald Walling, who oversees the company's manufacturing plant and is preparing to test a new molding process. As the day goes on, Caswell nervously scours the late editions in vain for some mention of Bullard's death. At six o'clock, Erica and the executives gather in the board room and wait for Bullard to arrive. Executive Frederick Y. Alderson is called away to speak with Julia O. Tredway, the corporation's major stockholder and Bullard's former lover. Julia says she received a call from Caswell requesting that she privately sell 3,700 shares of stock to an anonymous buyer. When Bullard fails to appear, the meeting is called off. Meanwhile, Caswell is at the Stork Club with his mistress, waiting for Julia's call, when he sees an item in the evening paper about a corpse identified only by the initials "A. B.," and immediately places a call to the police. McDonald returns to the plant and learns that the test of the new process did not go well in his absence. On the way home, he complains to his wife Mary that financial analyst Loren Phineas Shaw focuses on the bottom line at the expense of the company's creativity, and becomes angry when Mary gently reproaches him for his blind loyalty to Bullard. When the Wallings get home, they learn of Bullard's death, and McDonald returns to the office. A stunned Alderson assumes control of the company, but bristles at the easy authority Shaw displays under the circumstances. Shaw tracks down Josiah Walter Dudley, who was supposed to be on a business trip to Chicago, at the apartment of Dudley's secretary, Eva Bardeman. After breaking the news of Bullard's death, Shaw tells Dudley that a board meeting will be held the following evening to elect a new president. Late that night, the Wallings discuss the upcoming election, and McDonald predicts that the majority of the board members will favor Jesse Q. Grimm, adding that Alderson had suggested that he make a bid for the presidency. Mary encourages her husband to leave the company and set off on his own, but McDonald refuses to turn his back on the organization. The following day, Shaw questions Erica about Bullard's relationship with Julia, whose father had run the company before committing suicide. Erica discreetly acknowledges only that Bullard brought the company back from ruin and befriended Julia when she had a breakdown. Meanwhile, McDonald receives word from the plant that the new process finally works but cannot be implemented because of a directive from Shaw. At the office, Caswell calls on Shaw and asks that 4,000 shares of the company's unissued common stock be sold to him at the previous day's closing price. Shaw surprises his colleague by revealing that he knows all about his shady stock deal. Caswell confesses that he lacks sufficient liquid assets to cover the short sale, and offers Shaw his vote in exchange for the stock. Later, Alderson drops by McDonald's son's Little League game with the news that Grimm plans to retire, and McDonald reluctantly agrees to support Dudley in the election. After reconsidering the situation, however, McDonald decides that he will run for president, but Mary is not pleased with the idea. After McDonald leaves, Alderson phones and asks Mary to call the office with the message that he has been delayed while picking up Grimm and would like the vote to be postponed until they arrive. Still disturbed over her conversation with McDonald, however, Mary does not make the call. At the office, McDonald approaches Julia to seek her support, but she bitterly tells him she is empowering Shaw to liquidate her sizeable stock holdings. McDonald angrily accuses her of selling Bullard out, and the distraught Julia breaks down. Moments before the meeting is to begin, Julia tears up the proxy she had given Shaw and takes her place at the conference table. Dudley nominates Shaw for president, but the first ballot is inconclusive because one board member abstains. Mary comes to the office and apologetically delivers the message to her husband, and Alderson and Grimm soon arrive. McDonald speaks passionately about the company, condemning Shaw's short-sighted emphasis on quick profits as "a lack of faith in the future." After McDonald outlines his vision for restoring the company to its former high standards, the board unanimously elects him president. As the meeting ends, Julia encounters Mary in the waiting room and asks her to thank McDonald for saving her life. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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