Patterns (1956)

When you think about movies, what different types of genres come to mind? Action, Sci-Fi, Crime, War, Spy, maybe Western (for you old farts) or Rom-Com (for you ladies). What one genre specifically does not come to mind? Business. When is the last time you watched a movie about business? Not lately, as they just don’t make ’em anymore (they actually never did). Why?

  1. Most movie goers (~75%?), live and work in the business world and the last thing they want to do is watch a movie about business.
  2. Where’s the conflict? A movie needs some kind of conflict, and finding it in a business movie is just too difficult for most producers, directors and screenwriters. They would much rather blow something up, adapt a comic book, shoot or chase somebody, have boy meet girl or try and make you laugh.

I specifically mentioned have boy meet girl and try and make you laugh, as there are actually a few business movies out there, but they are really romance movies, comedy movies or both: Desk Set, Secret of My Success, In Good Company, and Jerry Maguire to name but a few. There are also numerous movies about Wall Street, which really is not about business, but about a fantasy-workplace-world, a place movie goers would love to live and work, but don’t understand.

I googled the term “best business movie” which returned lists and lists of movies, the ones that weren’t about Wall Street or Rom-Coms, were biographies (Steve Jobs, Pirates of Silicon Valley, The Social Network, The Founder, The Aviator), crime (The Godfather, Casino) or documentaries. With the exception of Office Space almost all are completely divorced from the word most of us live in. For example, The Aviator is a biography of Howard Hughes, which though I’m sure many found fascinating, I’m sure none thought “hey, that reminds me of where I work!”. Also, they are all from the last 40 years, like business is only a recent phenomena.

Well when I think of the “best business movie”, a very good movie come to mind, that is almost entirely about . . . business.

Patterns (1956)

I need warn you right from the get go, this movie is in black and white. So if that makes it a no go, then you might as well stop reading right now.

The movie starts with a new man showing up at corporate headquarters to take a senior management position. While we may not all be reporting to the president, we’ve all been the new guy, trying to figure who is who, what my job really is, what his job really is, and where the bathroom really is, etc. And we’ve all met the new guy, wondering, who he is, where he came from, why he’s here. A reviewer of this film, mentioned that it is “a tale of corporate morality”, which is at best overblown and worst inaccurate, as to me Patterns is about the workplace politics we’ve all had to deal with: the abrasive boss, the up and comer, the bitter old timer, the cliques, the teacher’s pet, and worst of all the meetings (though perhaps not as melodramatic or as loud).

There is a time machine aspect, where the men wear suits, the woman long skirts, the office décor is stately, a place where everyone calls each other by their surname (“Yes, Mr. Staples”, “Why no Miss Fleming). A cocktail party at the protagonists home plays a key role in the movie, which reminds me how the corporate world must have felt so elegant back in 1956. The men are in tuxes, the women in gowns, pearls and stoles. I have to wonder, did a man arrive to a cocktail party in 1972, realize he was the only man wearing a tux and then say “ohhh, I guess that’s that, we’re not doing the tux thing anymore”.

Remember up above where I stated “the last thing they want to do is watch a movie about business”, well this movie is all business: reports, memos, meetings and mimeographs. It has no chases, double-crosses, liaisons, with no one hiding under the desk and no one trying to close the “big deal”. Instead it is about relationships, personalities, and emotion with all of it tied together by dialogue (and more meetings).

We’re not talking Citizen Kane material here, but then it’s not shooting for that – it’s all a more modest affair. And another benefit of it being made so long ago: it’s short and sweet at one hour and 24 minutes. If this movie were remade today it would be at least two hours and 24 minutes. Time enough to include closing the big deal that saves everyone’s job, a work place “romance” (or two) and a high speed chase.

This whole production has an Interesting backstory: With a screenplay by the Twilight’s Zone’s Rod Serling, it was originally featured as a television play, broadcast live on January 12, 1955, as part of the television series, Kraft Television Theatre. Because of its popularity, it was unprecedently broadcast live again on February 9, 1955. Because both broadcasts were so well received it was made into a movie in 1956.

The tv version and the movie version are quite similar and both are quite good. If you are retired and have nothing better to do, then watch both. If are still working for the Man (having a little bit of your soul eaten away every day), therefore finding your time limited and the subject matter too topical, and can only handle one, then watch the movie version. It has better production values and as it is slightly longer (74 vs 53 minutes), it allows some of the scenes to be fleshed out and characters to be developed. The casts are almost identical except for Van Heflin (Shane), replacing Richard Kiley (The Man from La Mancha), which works out quite well as the former brings a little more grit to the role. When Van Heflin threatens to “break your jaw” it seems much more believable than when Richard Kiley says it. Either way, in either version, the Boss, or should I say “Mr. Ramsie” is played by Everett Sloane who steals the show.

Note: The tv version comes with the actual 1955 commercials, so keep a pen handy to take down the recipe for a “marvelous new soup idea” which calls for adding Kraft Cheez Whiz to condensed tomato soup, whose “secret is cheese flavor“.

Watch both versions below, courtesy of afteractionreport.info (and YouTube):

Patterns – movie (1956)

Patterns – tv (1955)

PS: If you find yourself wanting more business, then you may want to watch the movie, Executive Suite (1954).

I need warn you right from the get go, this movie is also in black and white, though if you’re still around at this point then I’m figuring it’s not a deal breaker.

Produced by John Houseman, the former Orson Wells protégé, the actor with impeccable diction who was a shill for Smith Barney in the 80s (they make money the old fashioned way . . . they earn it!). It features an all star cast led by William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, everybody’s favorite wife June Allyson¹ and a full complement of old guys; Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Dean Jagger, and Louis Calhern (who actually died soon after this movie was made). While similar to Patterns in that it features board room politics, the similarities end there as Executive Suite includes a work place liaison, a double cross, and short selling, though there is no car chase. Also William Holden is so much younger and better looking than all his colleagues, that you know where this is heading.

The movie is also quite unique in that the first portion of it is filmed directly through the point of view company’s president and the entire movie is without a musical score.

Watch below, courtesy of afteractionreport.info (and the Internet Archive):

https://archive.org/details/ExecutiveSuite1954

¹ While June Allyson may have been everyone’s favorite wife, she was not my Father’s. He was not fan as “she’s always crying”.

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