Executive Suite (1954) – A compelling corporate drama powered by a superlative cast

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Avery Bullard, the President of a major furniture company called Tredway Corporation dies while taking a stroll on the street. This is witnessed by one of the board members, George Caswell (played by Louis Calhern) from a window. Being the self-serving man that he is, he tries to take advantage of this by arranging make a short sale of a considerable amount of the company’s stock. However, Caswell is not entirely sure if it is Bullard.

The police is unable to identify the dead man as a result of his purse getting stolen by a bystander. The rest of the board members doesn’t know of Bullard’s demise yet. It’s the last day of the week.Meanwhile, they are told to gather for a board meeting which will be presided over by Bullard. Naturally, the meeting has to be cancelled on account of Bullard not showing up. When Caswell sees in the newspaper that the police have managed to uncover the initials of Bullard’s name, he concludes that it is indeed Bullard who has passed away. The other board members are soon notified and naturally this sets off a scramble for the prized throne.

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The key players are Frederick Alderson (played by Walter Pidgeon), who has been Bullard’s right-hand man for a long time, then there is Loren Shaw (played by Frederic March), a calculating man whose constantly sweating palms belie his confidence and finally, there is the idealistic and hands-on McDonald Walling (played by William Holden) who is the Vice President for Design and Development. It becomes quite clear that Shaw would do anything to claim the President’s chair for himself and he starts making his pre-planned moves, which includes intimidating the weak Walter Dudley (played by Paul Douglas), the Vice President of Sales and putting the pressure on Caswell because Shaw has learned about his little secret.

When Caswell extorts Shaw, he puts him in a difficult position by letting Caswell know that the only way he can get his stocks is by nominating him for President and this leaves Caswell with no other options.The man who seems perfectly fit for the job is Alderson but he backs out and makes a suggestion Walling that he take it instead. Walling backs out too. But Walling and Alderson don’t like the idea of Shaw becoming President as he is someone who is concerned more with the profits than of the future of the company and they are not going to let that happen. When the time for the ballot nears, Walling decides to approach Julia Tredway (Barbara Stanwyck), the daughter of the company’s founder and the girlfriend of Bullard, to get involved.

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All these work together as the perfect ingredients for a well-written and deftly directed drama which makes good use of the wonderful talents of some of 1950s finest A-list cast ever assembled. The final monologue of Holden is one of the highlights of the film and also the performances of Frederic March and Louis Calhern deserve special mention. These two are among my favorite actors from the ’50s. The director is Robert Wise, the man behind films such as The Haunting (1963) and The Sound of Music (1965).

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