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DVD SAVANT

The Solid Gold Cadillac


The Solid Gold Cadillac
Columbia TriStar
1956 / B&W (+ color) / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 99 min. / Street Date October 28, 2003 / 19.95
Starring Judy Holliday, Paul Douglas, Fred Clark, John Williams, Hiram Sherman, Neva Patterson, Ray Collins, Arthur O'Connell, George Burns
Cinematography Charles Lang
Art Direction Ross Bellah
Film Editor Charles Nelson
Original Music Cyril J. Mockridge
Written by Abe Burrows from the play by George S. Kaufman & Howard Teichmann
Produced by Fred Kohlmar
Directed by Richard Quine

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Solid Gold Cadillac is the perhaps the least of Judy Holliday's handful of pictures, but it's still a good star vehicle from an interesting play about corporate shenanigans. The cast shines in a satirical look at dry issues of stockholder meetings and big business corruption. The conflicts are wrapped up as neatly as a television sitcom, but being with Ms. Holliday for 100 minutes is again a pleasure.

Synopsis:

CEO of International Projects Edward McKeever (Paul Douglas) resigns to go help the military get bills passed through congress. It's a noble effort that sees him relinquishing control of the company he founded to his unscrupulous board of directors headed by Clifford Snell (Fred Clark) and John T. Blessington (John Williams). At his final stockholder's meeting, McKeever meets gadfly Laura Partridge, an unemployed actress with ten shares and a big mouth that embarasses the board with questions like, why they give themselves such astronomical salaries. After McKeever's departure, Partridge's meek heckling gets in the way of the executives' nefarious plans, so they eliminate the problem by hiring Laura as a stockholder liaison, placing her in an office where she's given no information and is expected to do nothing. But secretary Amelia (Neva Patterson) sneaks Laura a stockholder's list and she begins a busy program of covert correspondence. Meanwhile, the board is frustrated that ex-member McKeever isn't cheating government contracts their way and makes the foolish decision to send Laura to Washington to talk to him, thinking that getting her out of the office is a good thing to do.

Smack in the middle of the 1950s focus on the Organization Man re-organization of the American workforce into the corporate mold, The Solid Gold Cadillac is a cheery re-affirmation of values in the face of new kinds of business greed. The Apartment and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying would later make more sophisticated/cynical statements on the subject, but in 1956 this movie's careful barbs do acknowledge the issue.

International Projects is a holding company so big its board members don't know the names of all the businesses under its purview. The founding genius is off to Washington to clear the way for Pentagon procurement through those foot-draggers in Congress (sheesh), leaving the company in the hands of a bunch of good old boys who hire a clueless nepot to replace him and immediately set themselves on a course of high times and corporate piracy. Laura Partridge is an obstacle that they grossly underestimate, in true farcical form.

Of course, Judy Holliday's bright-faced lack of sophistication charms both us and the few good people at International Projects, and instead of being deadwood she creates a stockholder's bloc that upsets the board's controlling majority of shares. Everything the board does is a snide abuse of power, from firing Holliday's pleasant secretary (well-played by Neva Patterson of Desk Set and David and Lisa) to sic'ing Laura on McKeever - and then using the pair's romance to discredit them.

McKeever is the soul of ethical behavior and the center of a story structure that negates most of whatever satire original playwrights George S. Kaufman and Howard Teichmann might have intended. There are no bad systems, only rotten apples in the barrel. Washington and big business are wonderful; it's just when you get scoundrels like the clownish Fred Clark and boorish Ray Collins into positions of power that things go wrong. Head schemer and womanizer John Williams is obviously English, a choice that also negates any tarring of American business. Can't be too careful, there.

Frankly, the Laura Partridge character is no angel herself. She's the sweet innocent, but her correspondence with her zillions of small shareholders is based on formulaic niceties and empty chat. She essentially uses her charisma to put the stockholders in her pocket. Why are all these people awarding Laura their proxy votes, without being asked, we might ask? When it comes time to rescue her white knight (who like King Richard has only left the kingdom to do more idealistic work) she can play her stock proxies like a hidden ace. Naturally, this all happens by accident, and McKeever and the second string romantic helpers Neva and Arthur O'Connell have to show her the way. If Laura calculated such a thing, we'd feel differently about her, wouldn't we?

(spoiler)

The happy result is that the villains are summarily booted and the company's top officers are replaced by two romantic couples. It's all entertaining, the actors are charming, and anything like a satirical message is blunted in favor of promoting the status quo. 1

Richard Quine's direction is snappy, and the script uses George Burns as a narrator to establish a wry tone. In small parts can be found Ralph Dumke, the actor with the unavoidably familiar barrel-gut voice  2, and Richard Deacon, of The Dick Van Dyke Show.


Columbia TriStar's DVD of The Solid Gold Cadillac looks splendid. The widescreen 16:9 formatting restores proper compositions for Ross Bellah's corporate office designs. The audio is beefy and the picture pops in excellent B&W. It's a shame that Columbia and MGM are beginning to lean toward flat and pan-scan discs for library titles, as a beauty like this one gives an old film new legs.

There are no extras except for some promo trailers, which is always okay by Savant when the main presentation is this good. The transfer retains the seldom-seen final scene that surprisingly switches to color for the final shot. It doesn't appear to have faded at all, but that bulbous gold 1956 caddie looks plenty strange.

Oddball question for Savant's legion of snoops: what is that strange round object next to Judy's leg in the cover illustration? Is it the alarm clock from the company that IP forced into bankruptcy?


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Solid Gold Cadillac rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 15, 2003


Footnotes:

1. Don't get me wrong. I like The Solid Gold Cadillac. It's funny and has good acting and the beginnings of a dissatisfaction with the New Order of big business.
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2. Dumke's unforgettable line from The War of the Worlds: "Boy, you could fry eggs on that thing!"
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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