If you're fortunate to find this rarity scheduled, by all means don't miss it.
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If you're fortunate to find this rarity scheduled, by all means don't miss it.
What Heflin doesn't realize is that he's the object of a corporate power play. Sloane is hard driving, ruthless executive usually in the kind of role Ed Begley plays. For once Ed Begley is a nice guy in a film. He's a decent soul unlike Sloane, but he's past his best years. Sloane doesn't want to fire him, just demean him enough so he'll quit. Begley's loyalties to the company stem from when Sloane's father ran the business and he can't see life beyond it.
All this comes out at the first board meeting that Heflin attends and later at a party that he and wife Beatrice Straight throw for the board members. Heflin is a confused man, caught between liking and admiring Begley and sadly knowing his future lies with Sloane.
A number of films were made in these years about corporate connivings at the top. Patterns can hold its own with any of them and that list would include Executive Suite, The Power And The Prize, Cash McCall, and B.F.'s Daughter in which Van Heflin co-starred with Barbara Stanwyck.
Patterns was originally a television drama and one of the best early scripts done by Rod Serling. Begley and Sloane repeated their roles, movie name Heflin was substituted for Richard Kiley. The filming still betrays its photographed teleplay origins, but the players more than compensate for the deficiencies there.
For a good look at how we saw corporate America in the Eisenhower years you can't do much better than Patterns or any of the other films I mentioned.
Heflin (who was never less than excellent in all his roles) has been hired out of his small Ohio business to join a big firm in New York. He quickly makes friends with Ed Begley, the firm's old timer who, it soon becomes clear, is being squeezed out by hard-nosed Everett Sloane. Therein lies the tension in the film.
Unlike the big corporation in "Executive Suite," which is clearly a furniture manufacturer, Slone's company is only vaguely defined, apparently a holding company with its fingers in many pies. We get just enough of the workings of the company to give it an authentic feel. The bulk of the picture is the Sloane-Begley conflict, which Heflin gets drawn into.
Sloane's single-minded character is encapsulated in a quick scene: Begley's teen-age son is waiting for his father after hours in the hall. Sloane walks by and the boy says, "Good evening, Mr. Ramsey" "Hello, Paul," says Ramsey as he passes. "Taking your vitamins, are you?" "I guess so, sir."
There's one little bit of logic that doesn't ring true. After a heated exchange with the boss, Begley is stewing alone in his office. Heflin, trying to give sound advice to him, asks why he doesn't retire. "Because," says Begley, "I'm 62 years old and I don't think I could get another job." Begley has worked for the company for 30 years and in those days of secure pensions he surely could retire. Why indeed doesn't he?
But "Patterns" is a model of tight, fat-free film making (no godawful background music, for one thing) that should be aired much more often than it is.
The movie begins with Van Heflin arriving at a new job working on the board of a corporation. Although he's happy to be there, he soon becomes dismayed to see how tough things are for a long-time board member (Ed Begley), as it seems that the intention is to slowly ease Begley out and have Heflin take over these duties. The problem is that Begley is a nice guy and he has a lot of good ideas...but somehow, for some reason, the CEO (Everett Sloane) hates Begley--and treats him like dirt. Tune in to see where all this goes--it's well worth the wait.
The film, like another of Rod Serling's famous teleplays ("Requiem for a Heavyweight"), is great for two reasons. First, the writing is exceptional. Second, like "Requiem", the story features some very dark characters--and gives them great gritty dialog. While the story is VERY simple, because the characters are so interesting, you can't help but admire the film. It's NOT an especially exciting or glitzy production, but is quality throughout thanks mostly to the writing but also to some wonderful second-tier actors who made the most of the material. They were second-tier because they were not the most famous actors--more journeymen who knew their craft.
This movie is very good at portending the future of American business 25 years before the age of the billionaire-boys-who-won't-grow-up and right-sizing began in the early 80's. Fred Staples (Van Heflin) is the 30-something industrial relations expert at a small plant in Ohio that has been bought by Walter Ramsey's (Everett Sloane's) company. He is courted by Ramsey for an executive position at the parent company's headquarters in New York. He arrives full of small town values and good ideas, and really likes his new boss, VP William Briggs (Ed Begley).
However, soon he realizes what is really happening. He hasn't been hired to help Briggs, he's been hired to replace him. There is no love lost between Briggs and Ramsey. Briggs, at 62, sees Ramsey as only in the President's chair because his dad started the company. Briggs also sees Ramsey as discounting the human element, thinking it a small thing to shut down a plant for six months while it retools although it comprises half the payroll of the village in which it sits. Ramsey says in the long run the village will be better off because the retooled plant will employ twice as many people as before. Briggs sees growth as something coming from the productivity and loyalty of the employees. Ramsey sees the need for acquisitions as a tool for growth in a world of ruthless competition.
Fred is put in the middle of all of this. Hand-picked by Ramsey, he sees reports that he and Briggs worked on together having total credit given to himself. Briggs' secretary of seven years is taken from Briggs and given to Fred. Basically, Ramsey is choking Briggs out with a death of a thousand cuts and small humiliations. In these days it still wasn't fashionable to fire employees with 30 years of tenure, so Ramsey hopes to get Briggs to resign. Fred protests all of this - to some degree - but even he admits to his wife he doesn't protest too much because he wants this job. It's not about the money, but the challenge. Ramsey realizes this and exploits this knowledge to ultimately corrupt Fred, all the while having Fred believe that he has won his round with the devil.
Actually, both Ramsey and Briggs have valid points in how to best run the business. Ramsey may be portraying the ruthless side of the business in this film, but in today's world he would be considered a humanitarian. He wouldn't be retooling a plant to double its size. He'd be shipping the jobs overseas, and he wouldn't give a second thought to outright firing someone he thought was too old for the job regardless of years of service. Written by Rod Serling, this film is scary in how accurate it is in depicting today's business world. The performances are wonderful. Ed Begley, so often playing the heavy, is poignant as the aging VP trying to hold on to a place in the world where he still feels he has value while trying to raise a teenage son. Beatrice Straight has a small but important role as Fred's wife who tries to get him to be honest with himself about his own motivations. Highly recommended.
In the play, Richard Kiley plays Fred Staples, a former football All-American who has proved himself as an executive for a small business back in Ohio and now has been hired by a big tycoon, Walter Ramsey, played by Everett Sloane, (in both versions), in the greatest performance of his distinguished career. Ed Begley, (also in both) plays the only executive in the firm who is willing to stand up to Sloane and who has taken so much abuse over the years that it's affecting his health. (Interestingly, Begley's character in the TV version is called Andy Sloane bit this is changed to Bill Briggs in the film: perhaps the only instance in which the same actor played the same character in two different productions of the same story, but the character had two different names. I wonder if it has something to do with Everett Sloane playing the boss, although I don't know what.) Elizabeth Wilson is strong as the loyal secretary in both, (se would turn up a generation later in 9 to 5). Ronnie Welsh is Begley's son in both. Both versions were directed by Fielder Cook. I like the way Cook handled the death scene, shooting it from the dying man's prospective, in the film.
The big difference is that Van Heflin played Staples in the film. Kiley is a fine actor and does a nice job playing a "nice guy" torn between his sensitivity and his ambition. Somehow, though, Heflin is even better. He has a gravitas Kiley, (at least in this early role), seems to lack. He just seems to carry a great moral force with him along with a basic friendliness and ideals. His wife is played by Beatrice Straight, who 20 years later won an Oscar for playing the wife of William Holden's corporate executive in "Network". Straight here is a glamorous, seductive and ambitious, not in an evil way but it's clear she's wants to be the "woman behind the successful man". I find her a little more interesting than June Dayton who plays the role in the TV version. You can spot a future TV series star in each version: Elizabeth Montgomery is a secretary in the TV version and Andrew Duggan shows up as one of the executives in the film.
The strength of the script is that no character is shown as all good or all bad. Begley is admirable in the way he maintains his values at the expense of his health but why does he keep taking all this abuse instead of finding a place in life where he can actually accomplish something? He talks about putting his kid through college but it seems he just doesn't want to give up his executive position. Kiley/Helfin have values but ambitions as well that keep them from leaving. Sloane is a monster but he defends himself with the "all boats rise with the tide" theory that by building a successful business it will help everyone in the long run. He also senses that he needs something more than "yes" men around him and so he will never fire Begley, (even if he kills him) and wants the new guy to stay and take his place.
Finally we come to the essential question: Are SOBs like Sloane necessary to make the tough decisions that have to be made that benefit us all? They would certainly have us believe that. They have to defend themselves so often that they keep saying that. But I've seen "nice" guys make tough decisions, too. I've seen decisions made with regard to their immediate effect on people. It can be done that way, you know. Characters like Sloane are the way they are because that's what they want to be, not because we need them to be that way.
Van Heflin, who plays the lead role as Fred Staples, is an actor who I never appreciated until late in my movie viewing life. Shame on me. I can't explain this other than the fact that I didn't see either "3:10 to Yuma" or "Act of Violence" until well into middle age, and I can thank Turner Classic Movies for finally introducing me to these films, to Van Heflin, and to much, much more than that. Heflin is a very natural, often understated professional. When I see him in a movie, his portrayals appear very real to me, as if he isn't reading the lines of a script written by someone else but rather speaking his own words very credibly and seamlessly. I think that this is what excellent acting is all about. Ed Begley, Sr. also appears in one of the best roles of his career, if not the very best, as Bill Briggs, the corporate executive who is being replaced by Staples and who is humiliated and degraded as a human being during the ugly process. Everett Sloan is perfectly cast as Mr. Ramsey, the egotistical, ruthless CEO who brutally intimidates any subordinate who stands in the way of his corporate goals and vision. Elizabeth Wilson, as the loyal secretary awkwardly transferred from Briggs, her beloved, longtime boss, to Staples, the new darling on the block, and Beatrice Straight, as Staples' sympathetic, sensible wife, both provide outstanding support.
I also liked how the director, Fielder Cook, created the fast pace of the corporation, at least at the height of its activity during normal business hours. I'm sorry that I missed Richard Kiley as Staples in the original play written for television. He is an actor who successfully played a wide range of characters from the very naive, inexperienced teacher in "Blackboard Jungle", to the crime-busting lawyer in "The Phenix City Story", and finally to the charismatic Don Quixote in the musical "Man of La Mancha".
The nightmarish view from the straining eyes of a stricken Biggs as his colleagues helplessly peer over him is very distressful. I recognize Mr. Serling's very distinctive influence here at a very critical moment in the film. Beyond this movie, the writer was among the most brilliant and creative contributors to the much missed "golden age of television".
Heflin plays a young man named Fred Staples, a small-town manager who is brought into a large firm by the President, Ramsey (Sloane). It's apparent to the viewer (and everyone but Staples) that he's been hired to replace one of the vice presidents, Bill Briggs (Begley). Staples admires Briggs and the humanity that he brings to his job, but he's the last of the old firm back when it was run by Ramsey's father, a compassionate man who cared about the workers. This Ramsey only cares about dollars and cents and efficiency. He's determined to force Briggs out.
Back in the '50s, big business movies were all the range, with films like "Women's World" and "Executive Suite" tackling the subject. The interest in the subject was possibly due to all of the postwar expansion in this country. "Patterns" is the best of the lot, realistic in its tone and with tremendous acting. The women are mere accompaniment - wives and secretaries - and certainly reflect the times.
Richard Kiley brought a naivete to the role of Staples that Van Heflin, because he's older, doesn't have, but he's still very effective as an honest, smart and decent man who's ambitious but doesn't like Ramsey's tactics. Ed Begley is sympathetic as a man past his prime who can't let go but whose job and daily battles are killing him. Everett Sloane does a great job as the ruthless Ramsey, who won't allow emotion into his business sense. We get a hint that he's not as unfeeling as he appears, but he's never going to let anyone else see it.
A really strong film, highly recommended.
Perhaps the film doesn't offer a highly cinematic experience and betrays its television play origins as it hardly ever leaves the interior of the office with most of the action taking place in the executive chambers, but Rod Serling's superior writing and the universally excellent performances by a veteran cast elevate this far above the average.
Troma's Roan Group released the film on DVD, that includes an awkward introduction of the film by New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick, while he is standing in front of a large Troma Poster(!) in what looks like a theater lobby, looking distinctly uneasy, like Lloyd Kaufman is pointing a gun at his head off screen. In addition, we get Lloyd Kaufman interviewing director Vincent Sherman, who was blacklisted after the McCarthy hearings, but after a few "questions" Kaufman takes over and starts railing incoherently against the modern depiction of business in Hollywood and how he's unable to get a screen anywhere for his Troma films. He even compares his current position in American cinema with that of blacklisted directors in the McCarthy era! Now Lloyd, thanks for bringing this great film to wider audiences, but these remarks - especially while interviewing a man like Vincent Sherman - are truly off the mark.
Camera Obscura --- 8/10
Thematically, it's all about the subjugation of the individual to the dictates of capitalist enterprise and consumerism. From a sharp script by Rod Serling, Patterns is, of course, quintessentially American; this type of story, however, could play out in just about any other similar environment in most other countries – and particularly with today's corporate globalization.
In a nutshell, the story shows how a younger manager from a subsidiary company is elevated to the board level to replace an aging VP whom the CEO wants to sideline (at least) or remove entirely (at worst). Ed Begley, with his usual acting expertise, plays the VP-on-the-out Bill Briggs; Everett Sloane almost overplays the arrogant and vitriolic CEO Walter Ramsey; Van Heflin, as the aspiring exec, Fred Staples, initially brings a stereotypical 'aw-shucks' attitude to the boardroom and makes friends with Briggs. Heflin is particularly effective in that type of role: honest, easy-going, wanting to please, and with his trade-mark wry smile.
Ironically, Staples doesn't realize he's been promoted to replace Briggs; nor does Briggs realize Staples is a threat – until it's too late for him to fight it effectively. What's even more ironic, however, is the manner in which Ramsey succeeds in convincing Staples to take up the job Briggs vacates. As Staples leaves Ramsey's office with a vastly improved contract, does he realize he is his master's creation even while thinking he is still his own man? Poor fool...or sharp operator?
Serling is, without doubt, condemning the Darwinian corporate world where only the fittest survive. Yet, he finishes the story with the protagonist's acceptance and continuance of that model, obviously signifying his own accordance – even if he doesn't like it. In other words, capitalism might often taste bad, but it's good for you, in the long run. And, regarding fine principles about being fair, and giving the other guy a break, well, as Staples says: "I want the job". Most can easily relate to that.
In stark black and white, no musical soundtrack, and most of the action taking place in a half-dozen sets and a few establishing shots, this is minimalist filming that relies on great dialog and acting, essentially – much like the TV stage play from which it is derived. Watch particularly for Briggs' exit from his job and the final confrontation between Staples and Ramsey: totally riveting.
There are some good comparative films from that same 1950s timeframe: Executive Suite (1954) and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) are two often quoted. Both are excellent films about corporate life. A different slant on what it takes to get to the top is Sweet Smell of Success (1957), with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis trying to outdo each other in the sleaze stakes.
On the other hand, I should mention The Fountainhead (1949), Ayn Rand's novel of Individualism Triumphant in the form of Howard Roark, genius architect, played by Gary Cooper. It's a curious counterpoint fantasy to all of the above stories in that it champions the individual artist over the corporation as the saviour of the capitalist world. So, forget the philosophy underpinning Rand's story and just watch it for Cooper and Patricia Neal steaming up the windows.
I have never been a fan of Van Heflin's. Occasionally I would see him in a role where he was quite good, but more often he bored me. This role, however, may have been his best. He is absolutely superb here as a man caught in the middle of a corporate power struggle and corporate bullying.
I cannot say the same for Everett Sloane, who here plays the chief executive of the corporation. I had forgotten such an actor existed, but as I began watching this film I remember him well from his many roles in television in the 1950s and early 1960s. I always felt he was a very limited actor, and that shows here as he overacts through some of the more volatile scenes in the film. He pretty much ended his career in Jerry Lewis films; enough said.
On the other hand, one of my favorite television actors from that same era (early television) shines here -- as he almost always did -- Ed Begley (senior). This is, in fact, a standout role for him.
Beatrice Straight, here as Heflin's wife, doesn't have a lot to do in the film, but she has one extremely powerful scene at the end of a dinner party. She's one of those actresses we didn't see often, yet she always very good. It was only after looking over her credits that I realized she was one of the psychic investigators much later in "Poltergeist".
Character actress Elizabeth Wilson is here as Heflin's secretary. Another dependable character actress who does nicely in this film.
Aside from the less than admirable performance by Everett Sloan, there are a couple of other things that slightly mar this film. Not an ounce of background music. Opening and ending credits simply church bells ringing, which I feel had nothing to do with the film. Cheap! Also, the transitions between time periods in the film were a bit jarring. It was a bit confusing as to whether days, weeks, or months had passed sometimes. And, in the last scene between Heflin and Sloan, the expression on both their faces seemed not quite right; I can't put my finger on it, but it didn't ring true.
Nevertheless, I'm giving this an "8" rating, something I rarely do, because of the strong performances by Heflin and Begley. If you're into serious films -- and there's no fluff here -- you'll probably enjoy this thought-provoking film.
Van Heflin plays Fred Staples, a sharp plant manager who is brought in to replace aging executive, vice president William 'Bill' Briggs (Ed Begley), by the company's demanding chairman Walter Ramsey (Everett Sloane). Briggs had worked for Ramsey's father, a man he respected, and has continued to voice his concerns about any company issue, refusing to become a "yes man" for the son that's now in charge. Out of respect for Briggs's tenure, Ramsey will not fire him. However, the chairman does employ a two pronged approach hoping to force the executive to resign: hire Staples, then embarrass by harassing Briggs relentless at board meetings in front of the other executives.
Directed by Fielder Cook, the cast also includes Beatrice Straight as Fred's wife Nancy, Elizabeth Wilson as Marge - Walter's loyal secretary of seven years that's reassigned to work for Fred, Joanna Roos as the secretary's boss and Mr. Ramsey's secretary Miss Lanier, Andrew Duggan as one of several other executives, Ronnie Welsh as widower Briggs's neglected son Paul, and Ed Binns as the elevator manager. With a sharp and quick eye, one can catch a glimpse of a woman that's unmistakably Lauren Bacall (in the center of the lobby between the elevators) near the beginning of the film.
Initially, Fred seems unaware of Walter's intentions to replace Bill. However, after a party at the Staples' home during which Nancy encourages the chairman to read a report that her husband had been working on for Bill, Walter makes them clear. Fred then has to struggle with his own ambition, especially when Walter credits Fred for what was Bill's idea at the next meeting of the executives. An argument ensues and a dejected Bill is forced to swallow his pride once again before leaving the room and collapsing under the stress and humiliation; shortly thereafter, he dies in the hospital.
This prompts a showdown meeting between Fred and Walter, the outcome of which is unexpected and not entirely unrealistic either.
While the motion picture is fairly engaging, there are a few questions that crop up while watching PATTERNS. One main question—what is the message of this film? Are we supposed to feel sorry for the old executive who is being squeezed out? Or are we supposed to realize that in the dog-eat-dog world of high-powered business, it's a bloodthirsty sport where only the fittest survive? Maybe the message is to stand up to the bullies who dominate the financial district and control the way our country's most successful industries are run.
When reaching the end of this film, one wonders if Serling's script originally had a different resolution in mind. All the different points of view established in the story do not seem to be given closure before the final fade out. We are not sure what Heflin's wife is willing to do make sure her husband will succeed. And Begley's son learns about his father's tragedy off screen, so we are deprived of seeing the impact it has on him.
In a lot of his other works, Serling never intends for the story to be ambiguous or left to interpretation, because he seems to have a goal with the narrative. But in this case, there is not much of an ending, almost like he was afraid to give us the whole truth. I sincerely doubt that he didn't know where to take the story, but it does sort of end abruptly.
Serling approaches the subject matter in a hard-hitting style at first, but he seems to soften in the middle. As a result, PATTERNS loses its backbone and bogs down in sympathy and maudlin melodrama. Ultimately, the story is just a chronicle of boardroom maneuvering like EXECUTIVE SUITE, but this is a disappointing turn of events. Especially, since the story had such potential as a damning indictment of the abuses and corruption that take place at the top.
In EXECUTIVE SUITE, we see a transferring of power at the end of the picture. But in PATTERNS, all we see is a potential threat to the established hierarchy. We are not even assured that Van Heflin's character will beat Sloane. PATTERNS is eighty-three minutes long, but I am not convinced it is a well-spent eighty-three minutes.
PATTERNS is a work that attempts to examine a complicated issue, sets it up in black-and- white good-versus-evil tones, but then deliberately backs off. Perhaps Serling had hoped it would seem intelligent and thought provoking (and artistic) instead of coming off as preachy and transparent.