White-collar hoodlums have been sliming their way across movie screens for years. From the conniving, power-hungry Loren Shaw in 1954’s Executive Suite, to the guru of greed Gordon Gecko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, the corporate crook has proved to be a villain as entertaining as s/he is infuriating. In the all-you-need-is-greed corporate world, there is no greater obligation than raising the dividends, and if thousands of lives are thrown into turmoil, well, who cares?
Now while we would be the first to condemn greed in any guise, we can’t help but celebrate these ten paeans to corporate vice.
Wall Street (1987)
The CEO of corporate greed films, Oliver Stone’s 1987 masterpiece encapsulates the unfettered yuppie excesses of the ’80s and makes a coherent point about the predatory nature of commerce. Michael Douglas, in a stunning, Oscar-winning performance, is Gordon Gekko, unscrupulous corporate liquidator, stock market speculator, and “player”; Charlie Sheen is the fresh-faced broker eager for a piece of the pie. Gekko’s famous “Greed Is Good” speech (“Greed — for want of a better word — is good. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”) remains the ultimate mantra for the monetarily obsessed.
Executive Suite (1954)
Make no mistake, corporate avarice was just as ruthless fifty years ago as today. The Robert Wise-helmed 1954 business melodrama chronicles the power grab between five vice-presidents following the death of their company’s leader. A terrific ensemble cast features William Holden as an enterprising free spirit who wants to return pride to the workplace, and Fredric March as a slimy businessman concerned only with making money. March’s character, a specialist in digging up dirt and manipulating others for his own personal gain, positively drips with evil. When Holden confronts him with populist wisdom like “You can’t make men work only for money, you starve their souls!” March coldly responds, “My job is to plug every profit leak!”
Meryl Streep carries the load in this industrial-strength docudrama about the unfortunate life of Karen Silkwood, the nuclear plant employee who died under mysterious conditions as she was about to blow the whistle on the Kerr-McGee corporation for hazardous working conditions. Director Mike Nichols fleshes out the tale with at-home moments of Silkwood and her zany housemates (including Cher, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress) but the obvious focus is on the heinous practices of Kerr-McGee management who, in the name of the almighty dollar, allowed their employees to contract radiation poisoning. And you thought your boss was a jerk!
Quiz Show (1994)
The real-life quiz show scandal of the 1950s serves as the basis for one of Robert Redford’s finer directing efforts. Ralph Fiennes plays Charles Van Doren, a handsome, brilliant, and utterly marketable contestant on ’50s game show 21. While Van Doren was certainly capable of answering the challenging yet not impossible questions, TV executives provided him with answers in advance to ensure that he would unseat the reigning champ — the sweaty, unattractive, and very Semitic Herbert Stempel (John Turturro). Quiz Show explores themes of anti-Semitism and the naivete of early television audiences, and also examines the insidious way that greedy execs corrupted all that was good about the show in order to boost ratings. All in all, it’s a sober illumination of the way television and advertising became seedy bed partners.
Blue Collar (1978)
It’s bad enough when your corporate bosses screw you over, but what do you do when you discover that your union’s also corrupt? That’s the problem faced by Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, and Richard Pryor in this searing drama set amongst the assembly lines of a Detroit auto plant. Brilliant performances (particularly from Pryor who is simply amazing) and a script that pulls absolutely no punches make Paul Schrader’s directorial debut the best unknown movie of the 1970s.
How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)
This uproarious attack on the advertising industry is propelled by Richard E. Grant’s manic, absolutely enthralling performance as Dennis Bagley, the most cynical and ruthless ad exec imaginable. A man blessed with an almost mystical power for manipulation — he can convince the obese that they will lose weight by eating sausages — Bagley suddenly undergoes a most odd and unpleasant transformation…. Funny, ferocious, and filled with memorable dialogue, this is scathing satire as only the British can create.
A Shock to the System (1990)
Michael Caine steals the show in this ultra-black comedy that puts a murderous spin on office politics. When aging executive Graham Marshall (Caine) gets passed over for a promotion that goes to a snotty young co-worker, he gets good and mad. Using highly unorthodox methods, Marshall begins his rise up the corporate ladder. With tongue firmly in cheek, this bizarre tale provides an interesting counterpoint to Executive Suite. In that film, when the “new” way of doing business threatened the moral foundation of working America, good eventually won out. In this scenario, the solid and traditional values of American business are maintained through murder and mayhem!
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Perhaps more a brilliant observation of how the bottom-feeders of the business world survive (in this case, a bunch of loser real estate agents trying to sell Grade-A crap), then a true corporate greed flick, this film still packs a hell of a “greed” wallop. It also features some of screenwriter David Mamet’s most memorably macho dialogue. The scene in which Alec Baldwin delivers a motivational speech — berating the entire sales team and informing them that they must compete in a sales competition with the losers getting canned — literally explodes off the screen. The incredible ensemble cast includes Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, and, in an agonizing-to-watch performance, Jack Lemmon as the hapless agent who always seems to find a bottom below the bottom.
Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)
The spirit of free enterprise battles big business and political corruption in Francis Ford Coppola’s lush epic. Set in the late 1940s, this true story centers on automaker Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges), whose dreams of building the car of the future crashed and burned when he took on the Big Three: Ford, Chevrolet, and GM. Coppola seems more preoccupied with making pretty pictures (courtesy of Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography and Dean Tavoularis’ production design) than telling a good story, but this is nonetheless fascinating, particularly when one considers the parallels between Tucker and Coppola himself.
Citizen Kane (1941)
You may have heard of this little film, based on the life of millionaire newspaper magnet, William Randolph Hearst. As played by Orson Welles, Charles Foster Kane is a man who has devoted his life to acquiring businesses, power, wealth, and women. But where does all that get him? Alone, miserable, and mumbling something about “Rosebud” with his last breath. Though Kane has a reputation as the greatest American film ever, don’t think that means it’s not entertaining. Far less dated than any movie from the early ’40s has a right to be, Kane holds up remarkably well as a stylish exploration of the debilitating nature of power and greed.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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