Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Walter Pidgeon, 1897-1984

Today marks the 111th anniversary of the birth of Walter Pidgeon, who played a series of stalwart figures throughout the 1940s and 1950s at MGM. TCM honored his birthday with three of his films. I suppose I could blog about Forbidden Planet, but I'd rather save that for another day. I've already mentioned Pidgeon as the executive secretary to Kirk Douglas' Jonathan Shields in The Bad and the Beautiful. So then, today I'd like to blog about another all-star movie with Pidgeon as one of the supporters: Executive Suite.

Executive Suite is a very simple movie: the head of a furniture-making business collapses and dies of a massive heart attack, forcing the executive board to come together and find a successor. It seems obvious at first glance that the successor is going to be the ambitious Loren Shaw (played by Fredric March), a man who's been angling for the top job for years and has the company's bottom line firmly at heart. However, junior executive McDonald Walling (William Holden) isn't so sure. He sees the furniture that the company is putting out, and thinks that by sacrificing quality for today's bottom line, the current board is putting the company's long-term interests in jeopardy.

What makes Executive Suite such a good movie is the fabulous cast which is really more of an ensemble, although almost everybody is (or was) a pretty big star in his or her own right. Amongst the cast members I haven't mentioned yet is Barbara Stanwyck, pictured here with Pidgeon, playing the part of the daughter of the company's founder, and a major stockholder in the corporation. Pidgeon plays the man who's put in 30 years of his life to the company, and is torn between which side to take. In addition to all these, there's the fabulous June Allyson, once again playing the devoted wife, this time to William Holden. Paul Douglas plays a salesman having an illicit affair, and look who the woman is with whom he's having that affair: Shelley Winters, in a surprisingly small role. Well-known names like Dean Jagger, Louis Calhern, and Oscar nominee Nina Foch round out the cast.

The movie is a bit formulaic, which is a slight weakness, although that's more than compensated for by the outstanding cast. The film's one big weakness is that it takes sides, very obviously portraying Holden as the good guy and March and Calhoun as the bad guys. One notable bit of trivia about Executive Suite is that it lacks a musical score. Instead, the soundtrack is the normal sounds of the big city. Thankfully, Executive Suite is available on DVD, as it's not currently scheduled to air on TCM any time soon.

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