Monday, May 23, 2011

Movie Monday: Patterns

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For this week's Movie Monday we'll be talking about Rod Serling's Patterns!

Patterns was a teleplay Serling wrote for live television in 1955. A year later, it was expanded with mostly a new cast and turned into this film. Like most things Serling put his name to, its fairly offbeat.
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The film opens on the streets of Manhattan, where the skyscrapers loom over their tiny inhabitants, scurrying from place to place like ants.

We follow Fred Staples (Van Heflin) as he reports for his first day at the corporate headquarters of Ramsey & Co., a huge conglomerate. Staples has been running one of the company's plants out in Ohio, but has been handpicked by Walter Ramsey himself to come to the home office, having him leap several rungs on the corporate ladder.

Upon moving into his new, lush office, he is met by the amiable William Briggs (Ed Begley), who is nominally Staples' new boss. Briggs and Staples take an immediate like to one another, even if it seems that Briggs--being much older--is feeling less secure at the company than he used to.

Not everyone is as friendly as Briggs, however: Staples' secretary Marge is polite but cool. She was Briggs' secretary for seven years, and is now being transferred to work for Staples. She's extremely loyal, but realistic: when Staples offers to let her go back to working for Briggs, she declines.

At the first meeting of the board with Staples, it becomes clear that old man Ramsey (the great Everett Sloane, who played Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane) has little to no respect for Briggs. When Briggs objects to a plan that would close a plant that resides in a small village on the basis it would decimate the town, Ramsey angrily berates Briggs in front of everyone.
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To make matters worse, Ramsey lavishes praise on Staples, embarrassing Briggs. The rest of the board stares at their shoes while Ramsey clearly pits his two employees against each other.

This tense situation continues for a while. Staples' star rises in the company, and Briggs continues to falter. At one point Staples asks why Briggs doesn't just quit, since he's clearly being pushed out the door. Briggs, not knowing what else he could even do, refuses to leave. Also, he believes in the principle of it: he was one the company's original men, and can't stand to see what's become of it under the son of the original Ramsey who founded it.

Staples is put in charge of a major report about the company's future, and during a party he and his wife (Beatrice Straight) throw, the report is handed to Ramsey, who goes off into a room to read it. Staples' wife is the one who orchestrated it, much to her husband's disapproval.

Ramsey is complementary in the extreme to the report, heaping more praise onto Staples. When he tries to make sure Briggs--whom he worked with on the report--gets sufficient credit, Ramsey blows him off and refuses to believe it. After leaving, Staples' wife seems to side with Ramsey, wanting continued upward mobility, frustrated at her husband's stubborn refusal to grab the proverbial Big Brass Ring for just for the sake of another man.

During the report's official unveiling in front of the board, Ramsey again praises Staples, leaving Briggs out. Staples tries to defend his friend, but it won't work. Ramsey berates Briggs as a useless old man, filled with old, useless ideas. Shortly after the meeting, Briggs drops dead in the hallway of the building.
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With Briggs' now gone, Ramsey slides Staples into his job officially. Staples is sick to his stomach over this, and flatly refuses to take it. In fact, he quits, berating Ramsey to his face.
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But Ramsey refuses to accept Staples' resignation, mocking his the "halo" he's trying to earn by quitting. Staples is convinced into staying, but only after he gets Ramsey to agree to certain terms, ones that allow him more say in how the company operates, and the ability to take on Ramsey directly. Surprisingly, Ramsey agrees to all of this.

Staples emerges from the meeting, where his wife is waiting for him so they can go out to dinner. She's thrilled at her husband's new position, and as they head out onto the streets of Manhattan, the film comes to a close.


Whew! While my write-up might make Patterns sound like a lot of boring talk, it is anything but. Director Fielder Cook keeps the tension ramped up throughout the film's 84 minutes, as Staples seems to fight for his very soul.

Rod Serling as a writer was hardly subtle, and he's not subtle here, but his sense of pacing and ear for dialogue helps make his stories compelling, even if The Message is being delivered via brick. That was true on The Twilight Zone, and its true here.

Ramsey, while initially seeming like the movie's villain, the cold-hearted corporate boss, is a bit more complex than that. Yes, all he cares about is profits, but in the final scene with Staples we see he has an almost messianic view of The Company--people, including himself, are just cogs for it to use up and spit out, according to its needs. He gleefully wields the power he has, but is perfectly willing to give it up if it means the company will thrive. He's trying to show that to Staples, who doesn't buy in to that philosophy...for now.

I really enjoyed Patterns, enjoyed watching its three main actors (Helfin, Begley, and Sloane) go at it for 84 minutes. The film has virtually no soundtrack, and it ends on what seems like a happy note--Staples has been promoted, on his own terms, what's not to love?--but the dead silence over which the credits roll leaves the viewer with a different feeling: quite possibly, despite all his best intentions, Staples will end up just like Ramsey.


I missed last week's Movie Monday, thanks my trusty old computer dying on me unexpectedly. But now that I've got a new set-up, and things are easier and faster than they've ever been, I hope to keep Movie Mondays going for a long time. Thanks to everyone who stops by!


2 comments:

Caffeinated Joe (Wings) said...

Never heard of this, but it sounds like a good watch. Serling is a favorite of mine!

And here's to many more Movie Mondays!

rob! said...

Thanks Joe!