Executive Suite (1954)


Robert Wise

Executive Suite is a 1954 American MGM drama film directed by Robert Wise and written by Ernest Lehman, based on the novel of the same name by Cameron Hawley. The film stars William Holden, June Allyson, 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.


Producer John Houseman wanted Henry Fonda for the role of McDonald Walling. Fonda turned him down to star in a Broadway musical that never reached the stage.

Holden as Tracy

25 February 2004 | by bkoganbing (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

Bill Holden was quoted as saying that Spencer Tracy and Fredric March were his acting ideals. Holden was fortunate enough to work with March in two films, one of them being this one. He never worked with Tracy however, but in this film comes close to emulating him.

Had MGM made this film 15 years earlier Spencer Tracy would have been cast in Holden’s part, the young idealistic Vice President in charge of the experimental division. He has a vision as to where the company should go and his speech at the board meeting spells it out eloquently.

Most of the reviewers of this film single out Fredric March’s performance as the best in this all star cast. But Holden is more than a match for March in the film and for acting kudos.


Spencer Tracy was always the actor who could deliver the long speeches the best for example, Boom Town and State of the Union. Holden goes into that category in this film.

You couldn’t make Executive Suite today. Now the Board of Directors would have chosen a new president who would have shipped the factory to some third world country and left that town unemployed.

Big Business Films Are Never Dated!

Author: julianhwescott from United States
27 May 2002

From the very moment I started watching Executive Suite until the very end, I was amazed at how accurate the producer and director and the stars of this film portrayed big business as it has always been and unfortunately as it always will be! Big business films are never dated! The same backstabbing political games were there then and are still there now! Sure, this film was made in 1954 and it is now almost 50 years later and the way in which business is transacted has changed but big business itself hasn’t changed a bit. Watch the movie and you will see. Everyone was superb in this film and even though Paul Douglas didn’t get very good reviews, I personally thought that he was one of the best actors in this great film. Barbara Stanwyck whose screen time was very short, turned in a grand performance as a family stockholder. Nina Foch was never better in the role of the secretary of the big boss and more than deserved her academy award nomination for best supporting actress even though she did not win. I also liked the casting of William Holden and June Allyson together; at first I thought an odd combination but they worked well together! You gotta see this one! Lots of suspense!


How Well do You Know Your Company?

Author: Bogmeister from United States
4 August 2005

A rare look into the business of running a business – a corporation – this is surprisingly entertaining, for adults, I would gather. In the first few minutes, we observe the death of the President of this company, from his p.o.v.-an artful beginning from director Wise. There are 5 Vice Presidents, all of equal rank. One of them will be the new Prez. The selection procedure is pretty simple. The Board, comprised of 7 members (2 other stockholders besides the 5 V.P.’s) votes yes or no on whomever is nominated. 4 ‘yes’ votes or more gets the job.

The cast is superb, really first rate, but the one to watch, for me, was Fredric March as Shaw, the V.P./Controller, whose sole criteria for success is the bottom line. He’s smooth, too smooth, and sweats a bit too much. You’ll note that nothing is ever seen of his private life, unlike the others. All his energy is geared around the company, but ultimately for his own benefit, even if he doesn’t see it that way. All the actors are very articulate, delivering their lines with impressive precision. The maneuvering done by each of the 5 V.P.’s is something to see; one front-runner (Pidgeon) for the top job seems a shoo-in, but just as quickly this sense evaporates. Any of the 5 appears to be the man for the job at one point or another – the decision and vote needs to be reached quickly, before the company starts to suffer, so we add tension to the plot.


This picture has not really dated 50 years later, as much of the sensibilities and office politics remain unchanged today. There may be more sleaziness and unscrupulous behavior nowadays, but even this is presented in the form of one of the board members (Calhern), a sneak who sees the death of the President as just another way to make some money in stocks. After checking this out, you may want to catch the documentary “The Corporation” to get a little more insight into such an entity.

A great example of mature, intelligent storytelling.

Author: boy-13 (afsfboy22@aol.com) from San Francisco, California
19 October 1999

When the president of a major furniture conglomerate drops dead, all of the company’s executives (William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger) converge in the executive suite for a vote on who will take over. But before this climactic meeting takes place, we learn about each executive’s motives and desires. Make way for the clash of egos and ambitions!

Helping to define the human element of these ruthless, driven businesspeople, we gain a revealing look into the simplicity of their domestic lives. And helping to add to the intensity of this over-wrought boardroom melodrama, director Robert Wise smartly (or not so smartly, perhaps) forgoes any musical soundtrack. Instead the background is filled with the real life sounds of a major company such as this.


The all-star cast provides perhaps the biggest punch in all of “Executive Suite”. Standouts particularly are Holden, Stanwyck, March, and Foch. Despite her devastating lack of screentime, Stanwyck is able to give one of the best performances of her mutifaceted career as a woman on the verge -the high-strung lover of the deceased president. In an exemplary showcase of scene-stealing, Holden has a final showdown with Stanwyck – this dynamite sequence tops them all. This smart coporate drama is given the glossed-over MGM treatment, but is nonetheless gripping and realisitic, thanks in part to outstanding performances and direction (watch for the amazing opening scene where we watch from the ailing president’s point-of-view). “Executive Suite” is intelligent, mature storytelling, Hollywood style.

Absorbing drama of corporate struggle for top executive position…

Author: Neil Doyle from U.S.A.
31 August 2003

Robert Wise has taken Cameron Hawley’s expose of big business shenanigans and turned it into a smart, well-paced melodrama with some superb performances from a highly polished cast–William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Pidgeon, Fredric March, June Allyson, Paul Douglas, Shelley Winters and Nina Foch.


Fredric March comes on strong as the most ambitious candidate while Dean Jagger underplays as the weakest. Another who is remarkable in showing restraint for a change is Shelley Winters as Douglas’ girlfriend who wishes he had more backbone. Barbara Stanwyck does some fireworks in a strong scene with William Holden but does a restrained piece of acting at the final board scene where she sits and listens as Holden takes command of the situation. Here she reveals without saying a word what a fine actress she is.

While most of it is given the glossy MGM treatment, the settings look realistic and there are some real shots of busy Manhattan streets and buildings. One MGM factor is missing–there is no background music, not even under the credits–remarkable for a film of this period. Somehow, it doesn’t matter–and the film hasn’t dated much at all. What it has to say about big business still holds true.

Nina Foch is excellent as an executive secretary and fully deserved her Academy Award nomination.


Bears watching twice

Author: Miles-10 from United States
15 September 2002

I recently watched “Executive Suite” for a second time, and I recommend a second look. Watching on video tape, there were very few scenes I wanted to skip over. The striking thing is how well the movie is written, staged and acted. Knowing what was going to happen the second time around, I noticed the little clues in people’s body language, actually telegraphing what they are thinking and planning; yet these are not so obvious that I noticed them on my first viewing.


This happens all through the movie but especially leading up to and during the climactic board room scene. If you know what to look for, you know exactly how everyone voted on the first ballot–before Frederick March’s character jumps to the wrong conclusion. Especially watch the play and interplay of Frederick March, Louis Calhern, Barbara Stanwyk and William Holden. Memorable dialogue includes William Holden’s line, “Look, you can’t put Millburgh–you can’t put Treadway–in the hands of J. Walter Dudley.” While the line only means anything in the context of this movie, it has a certain arch resonance because the characters in “Executive Suite” (based on the novel of the same name by Cameron Hawley) have deliberately evocative names: Because “Dudley” sounds like “dud,” nothing should ever be put in the hands of anyone with the name J. Walter Dudley. All of the performances are very good. Walter Pidgeon and Nina Foch are understated and consequently under-rated.



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