Review for The Secret Of My Success
Looking back at cinema from the eighties, it’s rather surprising to see just how much of it was about money, and the acquisition of wealth. I’m sure it represents society as it was at the time, with the entrepreneurial spirit, indeed greed tolerated if not celebrated. Markets were being deregulated, utilities privatised, and the dawn of the digital age unleashed a whole new silicon industrial revolution. All of this was epitomised in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, but why go for drama when you could get just as much of a taste for the era, and some laughs too in an avaricious comedy or two. Films like Trading Places, Brewster’s Millions, Ruthless People, even Local Hero all reflected the dream people had, about taking a shortcut to wealth. I have a soft spot for The Secret of My Success, a film that exemplifies that particular mindset like no other.
Brantley Foster is a college graduate from Kansas who’s heading off to the Big Apple for his first real job. He arrives just in time to be fired, from a company that has just been bought out, and downsized. But he promised his parents that he’d make it, would only return to Kansas on his own private jet, so the job hunt begins... and instantly runs into the usual Catch-22 of no experience. His last hope is his distant uncle, Howard Prescott, a senior executive at Penrose. And he gets his foot in the door... of the mail room in the basement, and as he’s told, no one gets out of the mail room. Only executives climb the ladder, so Brantley decides to fake it, and invents an alter ego for himself, Carlton Whitfield. But making money is a lot easier than juggling romance, as he learns when falls for Christy Wills, an up and coming executive at Penrose, and as he learns when his aunt Vera falls for him.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray case which boots to an animated menu. The Secret of My Success gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo English soundtrack, with optional English subtitles. Originally released here by Universal, this re-release comes via Fabulous Films. I haven’t seen the original release, but Universal were notorious for DNR-ing their back catalogue films into plasticity, but this Fabulous Films release looks really good, a simple transfer from film to disc, with the minimal post-processing done to make sure it’s clean and stable. The image is clear and sharp, colours are good in that eighties neon and pastel sort of way, detail levels are excellent, and there is a nice organic layer of film grain. The only nits to pick might be a bit of wobble, and a frame jump I spotted around 11 minutes in.
The audio is fine, the stereo gives the film the space it needs, without being overbearing, while the dialogue remains clear throughout. This is one more eighties film where you’ll want to look for the soundtrack CD as soon as the film ends, although sadly I didn’t have any luck finding it for a reasonable price. It seems that Yello’s Oh Yeah was to 80s cinema what Smash Mouth’s All Star was to early 2000s film. It’s everywhere!
There are no extras on this disc.
Quite recently at the time of writing, Disney decided to protect the morality of the world by changing the name of Boba Fett’s starship from Slave 1 to “Boba Fett’s Starship”. The word itself, without context has far too many negative connotations for Disney to bear. It seems the arbiters of morality have such qualms about the most innocuous things these days, that it’s a wonder that they get any sleep at all. Spare them from The Secret of My Success, as it’s a film with attitudes towards the acquisition of wealth and power, as well as towards relationships that would cause the heads of today’s neo-Puritans to explode. The Secret of My Success is not a guide to be following, about as worthwhile a text as Trump’s Art of the Deal.
Yet the Secret of My Success is great fun as a movie, an entertaining comedy, with just enough of romance to get you invested in the characters. Right from the beginning, you know the film is about greed, with college graduate Brantley Foster heading off to New York for the sole purpose of getting rich; certainly not building a career although he is about to start his first job. Back in the 80s, lying on a CV wasn’t a sackable offence, it was showing initiative, but even that’s not enough to get Brantley in the door. When he does eventually get a dead end job at the bottom of a corporation, he has to pretend to be an executive in an attempt to get himself noticed. Given that the boss of the corporation gave him that job, and obviously knows his face, the quick change comedy comes from seeing Brantley try to get noticed without being noticed.
Then there is the romance as well, with Brantley and Christy having the most underrated meet cute in eighties cinema, although by the time they encounter each other again, they’re completely antithetical. Besides, Christy is having an affair with the boss, Howard Prescott, and by this time, Brantley has already encountered the sexually voracious Vera, and subsequently discovered that she’s Prescott’s wife, his aunt. Crossed wires, mistaken identities, and a climactic bedroom hopping farce ensue, the kind of thing that I usually shy away from, but for once in this film, it really does work for me.
If there is a weakness in The Secret of My Success, it’s that in its perceived amorality, the climax of the film, where the ‘villain’ gets his comeuppance, feels a little ambiguous to me, I’d even go as far as calling it unfair. After all, he didn’t lose because it was morally justified, he loses because he just wasn’t as greedy or as ambitious as anyone else.
However, if you’re watching The Secret of My Success with a morality filter in place, you’re doing it wrong. This was a film from the height of eighties excess, when greed was good, and getting more than your fair share before anyone else could was a laudable achievement. The comedy is spot on, the characters are likeable, the film has a great sense of style to it (if you’re a fan, or nostalgic for the eighties), and you’ll love the music soundtrack if nothing else. This vanilla release from Fabulous Films is solid in all the essentials, and well worth picking up.