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Executive Suite

Executive Suite(1954)

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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 June 5, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Deborah Kerr would star in the film. A September 1953 Hollywood Reporter 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 April 1954 Hollywood Citizen-News 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 November 1, 1953 Los Angeles Times 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 August 2, 1953 New York Times 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 September 1953 news item in New York Times, 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 January 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 January 12, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item. "The movie has set in motion the conflicts and collisions that give business its true drama," Fortune wrote. According to a January 7, 1955 Hollywood Reporter 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 September 20, 1976 -February 11, 1977 on the CBS network.