|Directed by||Robert Wise|
|Produced by||John Houseman|
|Written by||Ernest Lehman|
|Based on||Executive Suite
by Cameron Hawley
|Cinematography||George J. Folsey|
|Edited by||Ralph E. Winters|
Executive Suite is a 1954 American MGM drama film directed Robert Wise and written by Ernest Lehman, based on the novel of the same name by Cameron Hawley. The film stars William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Shelley Winters, and Nina Foch. The plot depicts the internal struggle for control of a furniture manufacturing company after the unexpected death of the company's CEO. Executive Suite was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including for Nina Foch's performance, which earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
This was Lehman's first produced screenplay. He would go on to write Sabrina, North By Northwest, West Side Story, and other significant films. The film is one of few in Hollywood history without a musical score, although the song "Singin' in the Rain" is sung by Mike Walling while he is off-camera taking a shower. The song appears in many MGM films during the period when its lyricist Arthur Freed was a producer at the studio.
While in New York City meeting with investment bankers at Steigel & Co., 56- year old Avery Bullard, president and driving force of the Tredway Corporation, a major furniture manufacturing company in the town of Millburgh, Pennsylvania, drops dead in the street of a stroke moments after telegraphing his secretary with orders to call a meeting of the board of directors that evening. A meeting at which, it's implied and assumed, he is likely to appoint an Executive Vice President who would be his immediate successor. As he collapses in the street he drops his wallet which is picked up by a bystander, emptied of its cash, and shoved into a wastebasket. Without the wallet, there's no way to immediately identify the body as Bullard.
The clock in the Western Union office on the ground floor of the fictional "Chippendale Building" reads 2:42 PM EDT when Bullard enters it to send the telegram dated (Friday) 6/19 (June 19), 1953 to his secretary, Erica Martin, stating that he will arrive in Millburgh on the "5:49" train from New York and calls for the executive committee to meet at six o'clock. He collapses a few minutes later as he exits the building located on the west side of Broad Street just south of Exchange Place while attempting to hail a taxi. The rest of the film takes place over the subsequent 28 hours ending in Treadway Building's executive suite shortly before 7 PM on Saturday evening.
George Caswell (Louis Calhern), one of the investment bankers with whom Bullard had been meeting and a member of the Tredway board of directors, sees what he believes is Bullard's body in the street below their offices and decides to profit from the information. He engages a broker to make a short sale of as much Tredway stock as he can in the 45 minutes of exchange trading left on that Friday afternoon. The broker manages to sell 3,700 shares of the stock and Caswell assumes he'll be able to cover that sale by buying Tredway stock at "a 10-point discount" on Monday morning when news of Bullard's death is released and exchange trading resumes.
But Bullard's body remains unidentified for several hours and Caswell begins to entertain doubt that it was Bullard at all who died in the street. He spends that Friday night going through the evening papers trying to confirm that it was Bullard and calling Tredway's corporate headquarters to ascertain if Bullard had shown up there. Eventually, while at the Stork Club, he reads a mention in one paper that a man with the initials "A.B." on his clothes and cufflinks has died in the street and remains unidentified. This convinces Caswell that it was in fact Bullard. So he calls the police to tip them off to the body's identity, and orders a magnum of champagne in celebration.
The news of Bullard's death travels to Millburgh and the executives at Tredway rapidly. It's Loren P. Shaw (Fredric March), the company controller, who takes the initiative in arranging Bullard's funeral and coordinating the company's reaction to the news. In so doing, he effectively diminishes the stature and confidence of Treasurer Frederick Alderson (Walter Pidgeon), who had been one of Bullard's closest friends though never a formal successor. Shaw also shrewdly releases the upcoming quarterly report immediately as the good news of big profits is likely to counter the news of Bullard's death and bolster the stock price when the market opens—likely even sending the price higher.
It's the interaction among Caswell and the five vice presidents to elect a successor to Bullard as company president that makes up the substance of the film's plot. With no sitting Executive VP, the field is wide open.
The initial self-appointed frontrunner is the ambitious but narrowly focused Shaw, who is concerned more with profitability and satisfying the stockholders than the quality of the company's products and long-term company growth. He holds the proxy of Julia Tredway, the daughter of the company's founder, who is still a major shareholder and board member. She had also been in a difficult romantic relationship with Bullard for many years.
Shaw also gains the vote of Caswell in return for being allowed to purchase 4,000 shares of company stock at the Friday closing price to cover his short sale. If Caswell doesn't get those shares from the company reserve, he will be ruined when the exchange demands he pay the higher price for the stock he has already sold.
Alderson and idealistic Vice President for Design and Development, Don Walling (William Holden), are determined to prevent Shaw from becoming President. After going through all the contenders Walling convinces Alderson that Walling, who is a strong believer in developing new products and more efficient manufacturing methods, should seek the position himself although his wife, Mary (June Allyson) is against his giving up that dream of being a full-time designer. Soon to retire Vice President of Manufacturing Jesse Grimm (Dean Jagger) is opposed to Walling because of his relative youth, while back-slapping Vice President of Sales Walt Dudley (Paul Douglas) is being blackmailed by Shaw having been caught having an affair with his Dudley's own secretary, Eva Bardeman (Shelley Winters).
The machinations, bargaining and maneuvering leading up to the election propel the plot. Walling's enthusiasm and vision, and a stirring boardroom speech, eventually carry the day, and he is unanimously elected the new company president.
- William Holden as McDonald "Don" Walling, Vice President for Design and Development
- Fredric March as Loren Phineas Shaw, Vice President and Controller
- Walter Pidgeon as Frederick Y. Alderson, Vice President and Treasurer
- Paul Douglas as J. Walter Dudley, Vice President for Sales
- Barbara Stanwyck as Julia O. Tredway, daughter and heir of the founder of Tredway
- Louis Calhern as George Nyle Caswell, board member
- Dean Jagger as Jesse Q. Grimm, Vice President for Manufacturing
- Nina Foch as Erica Martin, secretary to the late CEO, Avery Bullard
- Shelley Winters as Eva Bardeman, secretary to Walter Dudley, as well as his mistress
- June Allyson as Mary Blemond Walling, wife of Don Walling
- Tim Considine as Mike Walling, son of Don Walling
- William Phipps as Bill Lundeen, a manager reporting to Don Walling
According to MGM records the film earned $2,682,000 in the US and Canada and $903,000 outside, resulting in a profit of $772,000.
Awards and nominations
- Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Nina Foch)
- Best Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons, Edward Carfagno, Edwin B. Willis, Emile Kuri)
- Best Cinematography
- Best Costume Design
The film also received two BAFTA Awards nominations:
The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival for best ensemble acting for the entire cast.
More than two decades later, the film and novel were adapted into a weekly dramatic television series with the same title. Airing on CBS in 1976-77, the TV version changed the fictional corporate setting to the Cardway Corporation in Los Angeles. Mitchell Ryan starred as company chairman Dan Walling, with Sharon Acker as his wife, Helen and Leigh McCloskey and Wendy Phillips as his children, Brian and Stacey. Other series regulars included Stephen Elliott, Byron Morrow, Madlyn Rhue, William Smithers, Paul Lambert, Richard Cox, Trisha Noble, Carl Weintraub, Maxine Stuart, and Ricardo Montalban.
- Executive Suite at the Internet Movie Database
- Executive Suite at the TCM Movie Database
- Executive Suite at AllMovie