Posted by Greg Ferrara on June 24, 2016
Executive Suite, the 1954 classic about an inter-business struggle among a company’s board of directors over who should take over the company, airs on TCM today. It’s a fine piece of filmmaking though not really a personal favorite. I like it just fine but, frankly, the profession doesn’t do much for me. No, not furniture makers, although that probably wouldn’t do much for me either, but board directors squabbling over power. The sharp, incisive script by Ernest Lehman makes it work because it’s, obviously, about the fight itself, not their jobs. Still, if I had to choose my favorite movie profession, business men on company boards would be pretty far down the list, even considering Michael Palin’s stirring speech to his board on not enough people wearing hats, in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. But there are so many professions portrayed in the movies it’s hard to pick just one. Also, they have little to do with real life so while I might love a movie profession, I may hate its actual counterpart in real life. For instance…
In real life, astronauts get to go up in rockets, dock on a space station, and conduct experiments for six months. And, you know, that’s okay. But in the movies they get to go Mars, or fake going to Mars. They get plant nuclear bombs on asteroids and become world heroes. They get to re-energize the sun so the earth doesn’t die or travel through space and time to the Vega system and talk with an alien that looks like their dad. Of course, a lot of the time they die doing these things, too. Come to think of it, they also have to deal with aliens coming aboard their ship in the stomach of a shipmate and stalking every last crew member until only one is left. And they get left behind on Mars. And no one believes them about going to the Vega system. Or they have to battle Monsters from the Id. You know what, on second thought, I’ll take the six months of experiments.
What about spies? In real life they spend lots of time reading files, listening to transmissions, reporting information back, and filling out paperwork. They analyze and interpret. In the movies they drink vodka martinis, shaken, not stirred, and have members of the opposite sex falling all over them every time they walk out the door. They eat fine foods and visit the most exotic locales on earth. They also forget their identity sometimes and almost always have tons of people trying to kill them. The upside is, those people appear to be very bad at their jobs. Oh, and they usually have pretty cool cars. Except when they don’t. And sometimes they do just interpret and analyze. In fact, the spy may have the deepest range of any profession in the movies. Think of the distance between George Smiley and James Bond. Or Harry Palmer and the Condor. Or Alec Leamas and Jason Bourne. I mean, they range from the realistic to the hyper-fantastic. Well, I’d be a fool not to choose the James Bond one for me even though I’m more Harry Palmer’s speed. But honestly, if I had to pick a spy profession, I’d take J.K. Simmons desk job in Burn After Reading. Get a briefing every two weeks or so on what everyone has screwed up, tell them what to do, go back to your lunch.
Some professions are so much more exciting, and dangerous, in the movies that I much prefer the real world equivalent. Take archaeology. I took some course in archaeology years ago and loved it. I loved the digs and the careful classification of artifacts and fossils (crossing over into paleontology). But I have no desire to go through a life or death situation just to discover an artifact and I certainly don’t want to steal anything. Sorry, Indy, it doesn’t belong in a museum, it belongs right where you found it. And that paleontology work they’re doing in the beginning of Jurassic Park? That’s the stuff I’d love to do! Sure, I love watching everyone get chased by dinosaurs, but give me the dig in real life anytime.
Other professions make it look so much better, or at least the appreciation and respect. Everyone in the real world, at least I hope, respects teachers for all they do but if I had to choose between being a real teacher and being a movie teacher, I’d choose the latter. In the movies, they have these tremendously heroic successes at their schools, where students practically lavish praise and love upon them, from Mr. Chips to Mr. Holland. They have an impact in real life, too, hence those movie stories but it’s so much more glorious on film.
Speaking of glory, does anyone really think being a private eye is as cool as it looks in the movies? I saw a special once on private eyes. Good grief it’s a dull profession. Searching for addresses, hanging out for hours waiting for the right moment to snap a photo, checking hotel records. Yawn. In the movies, though, they get whistling lessons from Lauren Bacall and enjoy party after party while their terrier looks on. Heck, Myrna Loy alone is enough to convince me the movie private detectives always have it better.
The thing is, the movies have to glamorize every subject, even if by glamorize that means showing the noble struggle involved. Take my profession, writer. The movies have portrayed dozens of different ways and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one that feels like what it feels like to me to be a writer. And that’s okay. I imagine there are so many different ways people in any given profession perform and act that the movies can take their pick at which to portray. Some professions, like being a spy or a detective, probably have the most obvious glamour treatment. Others, like a policeman or politician, range from generic to good guy to bad guy with every shade in between. It’s always interesting to see your profession, or even hobby, portrayed in a movie, and usually it doesn’t look all that right to you. We look to the movies to escape from our everyday lives so when we see our own profession up there, it can cause us to get lost in critiquing the details rather than watching the movie. That’s why, if they ever make a movie about classic movie bloggers, I’m not watching it. They probably won’t understand how strong, selfless, and heroic we are. I guess I just have to live with that.
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