The 1954 film Executive Suite, directed by Robert Wise and adapted for the screen by Ernest Lehman is an intense, yet overly-dramatic story about big business boardroom drama and boasts an all-star cast including William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, June Allyson, Walter Pidgeon, and Shelley Winters. The President of Tredway Corporation, Avery Bullard suddenly dies of a heart attack, leaving behind a gang of vice presidents on the board to see who will emerge as the new head of the sucessful furniture company. The men who vie for the position are: McDonald Walling (William Holden) the practical and ambitious family man who’s main goal is to build a better company; Loren Phineas Shaw (Fredric March) the uncaring, ruthless and money-driven controller, Josiah Walter Dudley (Paul Douglas) the weakling sales manager who is being blackmailed by Shaw for his vote because he is having an affair with his secretary, Eva (Shelley Winters); George Nye Caswell (Louis Calhern) a man who likes to gamble with the company’s stocks and who comes up short on cash when the chips are down; Frederick Alderson (Walter Pidgeon) Bullard’s former best friend who doesn’t have what it takes to run with the other top dogs; and Jesse Grimm (Dean Jagger) a man on the verge of retiring from the company, but who doesn’t like any of the other candidates. The last piece of the voting puzzle comes in the form of Julia Tredway (Barbara Stanwyck) the company’s biggest stockholder and the daughter of the company founder and the ex-lover of Bullard. Julia has disengaged herself from the company due to a previous nervous breakdown and now seems willing to let Shaw vote for her through proxy. As the battle for the presidency ensues, one man will emerge triumphant (with four votes from the seven member board). When the dust settles, it comes down to good guy Walling versus the fiendish Shaw. The film ends with a overwrought speech from Walling as he attempts to enlighten the board with his notions about product quality and togetherness. Will it be enough to sway the voters?
Executive Suite was nominated for four Academy Awards. Three of the nominations went for the film’s technical work- Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. The fourth nomination (and the film’s sole acting nod) went to Nina Foch, nominee, (145), for her role as Erica Martin, the grief-ridden, yet altruistic executve secretary to the deceased Avery Bullard. Foch, the Dutch-born actress who’s known for playing cool, confident women onscreen, does what she can to add some interest to her role as the somewhat muted and overshadowed Erica Martin. Foch lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront.