With his rabbit teeth and flat, helmet-like hair, Robert Morse looks like a tamer version of Jerry Lewis in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967). Indeed, the character he plays isn’t unlike the persona Jerry so often brought to life: more efficient, true – but for the most part as clueless and entirely dependent on external sources of authority (in this case, on the eponymous handbook). Morse’s character, J. Pierpont Finch, is part ruthless, part hapless – once set on the fast track of career-climbing, he sticks slavishly to whatever he reads in his little book, and it is the movie’s great unresolved puzzle what makes him so endearing to Rosemary (Michelle Lee). (Or rather, by what means does the initial endearment hold up, since J.’s actions reveal nothing but a single-minded drive to upgrading his professional status.)
Less an executive Candide than a sunny Julien Sorel, Finch has remarkably few tricks up his sleeve to buttress his way up, and thus the subsequent steps in his climb strike one as rather mechanical and dull. People Finch flatters have their defenses way down all the time, and cling automatically to mere hints of sympathy, common interests, or shared past that Finch throws at them.
Towards the end, Rosemary’s sunny virtue triumphs over Finch’s sunny drive, with the embarrassingly literal “Brotherhood of Men” number to seal the deal. The movie, as crude and pasted together as it is, serves best as a showcase for Morse’s remarkable responsiveness and humor, both of which can be wasted away, but still shine beautifully.