“How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” is a very funny, highly stylized satire of the success ethic, with the stars who made the show a hit on Broadway recreating their original roles. Young Robert Morse—who appears as the big boss on “Mad Men”—plays J. Pierpont Finch, a window washer who sets out to climb the ladder at Worldwide Wicket Corporation, run by an imperious boss, played by Rudy Vallee. He doesn’t count on meeting and falling in love with a sweet-natured secretary, played by Michelle Lee, who actually believes in him. The candy-colored production design and distinctive musical numbers created by the great Bob Fosse make this musical a one-of-a-kind time capsule.
Bob Fosse then turned his attention to groundbreaking standup comic Lenny Bruce in “Lenny,” played here with passion and conviction by Dustin Hoffman. Director Bob Fosse and playwright Julian Barry treat their real-life subject like a documentary, with friends and family looking back at Lenny’s tumultuous life and career. Valerie Perrine plays Honey Harlowe, who marries Lenny but can’t stop him from his self-destructive ways. Lenny Bruce wanted to speak the truth in his nightclub act—and use four-letter words that most of us utter on a regular basis—but he became a target of moral gatekeepers, and major-city police departments. This only made him dig in deeper to fight what he saw as a righteous battle. It’s fascinating stuff—not always a pretty picture, but Hoffman makes you believe he’s the real deal.
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These two movies definitely evoke their time period—but they’re just as interesting to watch today as they were when they first came out.
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