Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"How to Succeed Etc.," Does Just That as Movie

Cleveland Press March 22, 1967

Frank Loesser's Pulitzer Prize musical has been transferred to the screen almost intact and the result is one of the best movie musicals ever done.

Most surprising of all is the casting. Producer-director David Swift has chosen to take the people off the stage and put them on the screen. Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee do the roles they created on Broadway.

Michele Lee, the secretary in love with the young hero; and Maureen Arthur, the sexy secretary, though not in the original cast, did play it on stage subsequently with Miss Arthur creating the role in the touring company starting here in Cleveland four years ago.

Considering the way the movie producers generally do these things it would have been no surprise to find the show turned into a starring vehicle for big box-office names -- say Natalie (doesn't sing-a-note) Wood and Tony Curtis (who was mentioned for the Morse role somewhere along the way.)

Morse, badly miscast in movies until now, shows what he can do in the role that established him. He comes across as a humble Mickey Rooney, if you can imagine such a thing, but with trademarks all his own.

Among them -- the widest eyes on screen, a jaw that drops so easily that it seems to be weighted and hinged, and a head that almost slumps out of sight whenever humility is indicated as the way to get ahead.

But Morse never clouds the gleam in his eye, the glimmer that indicates a latter day Machiavelli of the business world.

"How to Succeed" revolves around Morse and through him satirizes the tricky, self-seeking ways of climbing the success ladder -- from mail boy to company president in as few steps as possible. It's cynical but disarmingly funny.

Except for some New York exteriors Swift has done little to open up the show, has pretty much photographed the action as it was originally staged. At least three or four numbers are gone but I really missed only two -- "Coffee Break" and "Paris Original."

Michele Lee as Morse's sweetheart is winsome and appealing and Maureen Arthur as Hedy, the boss' friend, sounds brassy and looks curvy.

Rudy Vallee registers better on screen than he did on stage as president of the World Wide Wicket Co. The Morse-Vallee duet of "Dear Old Ivy," a delicious spoof of college songs, never sounded better.

Morse, as young J. Pierpont Finch, still sings his hymn of self-confidence, "I Believe in You." But before he does the moviemakers have allowed Miss Lee to sing it as well, to him. It's an endearing moment but out of keeping. It suggests that Finch may have had a moment of self doubt but that the confidence of a good woman has kept him going.

Those of us who have watched J. P. Finch make his way to the top in repeated productions of this hit in the last five years know our sly and crafty hero better than that.