"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Monday, March 7, 2011

The BOSS in movies - No, Not Springsteen

Which boss would you prefer?

I was talking to my boss this morning, and I began thinking about the portrayal of employers in movies. They come in all shapes and sizes, some rotten, some wonderful – I must admit that the rotten ones are more fun. These are some of my favorites, good and bad, usually in the same movie. I will paraphrase Frankenstein’s monster in describing my choices:   “Boss bad!”  “Boss good!”

Boss Bad: Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Talk about a mean old man! Devious, grasping, practically sociopathic in his indifference to fellow human beings, Mr. Potter will always be remembered as one employer for which nobody wants to work. To add to the mix, he doesn’t even have an epiphany at the end of the movie and show some redeeming quality!

Boss Good: James Stewart as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.” George and Mr. Potter could not be further apart on the boss scale. George cares about his employees, his clients, and is a great husband and father to boot. Justice and kindness are the characteristics which best describe him. I’d be his secretary any day!

Boss Bad: Everett Sloane as Walter Ramsey in Rod Serling’s Patterns (1956). Sometimes he even looks like the devil in this movie. He has an iron fist which he does not hesitate to use on his employees. In his quest for better business, he is determined to weed out the weakest of the high-ups in his company. It does not matter to him if they have been there for 40 years, if they display fine and decent personal qualities, or if they have desperate need for their jobs. He is interested only in the bottom line.

Boss Good: Van Heflin as Fred Staples in Patterns. Although just a good plant manager and not yet an executive, Fred is being groomed for a position at the top. He does have ambition, but cannot stand Ramsey, and is agonized over the thought of displacing one of the men targeted for replacement. However, when the plan becomes inevitable, Fred shows some hardness of his own in letting Ramsey know just what he thinks of him, and how Fred will do the job his own way, no matter how much he has to fight for it. It is obvious that Fred will be an exacting but just man as an executive.

Boss Bad: Dabney Coleman as Franklin Hart in Nine to Five (1980). Who could forget this slimy little toad enjoying his power with over-worked and under-paid employees? Demanding coffee, leering at his secretary, kissing up to the company’s big boys, and stealing a great idea from one of his “girls” are just some of the characteristics that cause his eventual and hilarious downfall, and made theatre audiences applaud with glee.

Boss Good: Lily Tomlin as Violet Newstead, Dolly Parton as Doralee Rhodes and Jane Fonda as Judy Bernly in Nine to Five. Although perhaps not technically bosses, these three women gave Franklin Hart his due (which included what they thought was accidental poisoning, kidnapping, holding him hostage, and being responsible for his relocation to a company branch in South America). At the end of the movie, they were moving up the ranks, and you knew they would make great bosses!

Boss Bad: Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972). If you know what’s good for you, you will fetch coffee and balance his checkbook with a smile. He is quiet, dignified, and would squash you like a cockroach. So, if you aspire to a job that requires absolute loyalty, unquestioning obedience, lots of hand-kissing, and includes bumping-off the competition, Vito is the man for you.

Boss Good:  No one comes to mind...

And now for my personal choice in both categories, one who is even worse than the Godfather, and another you can't help but love:

Boss Bad: George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1984). Scrooge does not have to beat up or kill his lone employee, poor Bob Cratchitt. He just beats him down every day with insults, harshness, low pay, and he won’t even let him put one piece of coal on the fire. Working with Scrooge has to be the worst job ever. Of course Scrooge is not happy with all his money, doesn’t even make himself comfortable, but he is so nasty to Bob that it is impossible to feel sympathy for Scrooge’s psychological problems. Good heavens, the man doesn’t even feel bad for crippled Tiny Tim, standing at the corner with his cane, in the bitter cold, waiting for his father to leave work. Scrooge doesn’t even invite the boy to wait inside with his dad, telling him “Well, you’ll have a long wait then, won’t you?” It wouldn’t be much warmer inside I suppose, but what a heartless …. heartless ….. I can’t think of a word suitable for my readers. Just use your own imagination.

Boss Good: Timothy Bateson as Mr. Fezziwigg in A Christmas Carol. Scrooge didn’t learn a thing from this dear little man. Fezziwigg ran a good business, his employees worked fair hours, and he loved to make them laugh and enjoy life. Christmas Eve to him was not just another workday, but a time to close up shop, feed his people with good food and drink, and make merry with music and dancing. Even Scrooge felt compelled to defend him to the needling questions of the Ghost of Christmas Past, saying that Fezziwigg was not silly, but a good employer who did things that made people love him, "just little things". Scrooge’s memory of Mr. Fezziwigg was the first time you could see his evolution from a bad boss to a good one.

As for me, I've had good bosses and bad, one like Walter Ramsey, a couple just like Franklin Hart...but I have Boss Good now.  I feel safe in saying this without sounding like I'm looking for a raise, because she doesn't really follow my blog,  I don't mind -- she is a busy, full-time doctor, wife, and mother of 4 very young children.  Her free time at this point in her life is ... well, rare to non-existent!  I've been with her for 11 years, and don't plan to leave until I drop dead  or she kicks me out (or if I win the lottery).  So Dr. C you are in the Really Good category.

How about you? Do you have any favorite movie bosses, bad, good or both?


  1. What a fun idea for a post, Becky! From a "people perspective," the absolute worst boss in movie history is already on your list: Everett Sloane as Walter Ramsey in PATTERNS. He more or less drove one of his employees to death! For good bosses, everyone seemed to like William Holden's manager in EXECUTIVE SUITE. Stressing quality over bottom line profits: What a concept!

  2. Becky - I LOVE this post! So clever and all of us working stiffs can relate. My favorite "bad" boss is Fred MacMurray in "The Apartment." A real stinker!

  3. Wonderful post and idea. I have a graet boss now myself, and I'll cry if she leaves. As for movies, I'm all over the place on this one. Good bosses: Rick in Casablanca, as he keeps everyone on the paycheck when his place is closed down; Good and bad boss in one: Walter Huston in Gabriel Over the White House, where he starts off bad and turns good. In The Shop Around the Corner, Frank Morgan is the bad boss and James Stewart is the good one. This would make a great blog-a-thon!

  4. Becky, this is a really creative idea for a blog. I think Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce was a wonderful boss, however, we could call Vida “bad, bad daughter”. Robert Taylor’s Johnny Eager was a bad guy, but he was a good boss for Van Heflin. I also think Bette Davis’s Margo Channing was a great boss, but again, Eve was a “bad, bad employee”. This is so much fun I could go on all afternoon, and I’m curious what candidates others will suggest.

  5. I actually thought Don Corleone was a good boss in "The Godfather"! Yes, he was a criminal and a murderer, but he was more just and fair than some I've known...Among those listed, I tend to favor Dabney Coleman's slimy turn in "9 to 5" as a quintessential "bad boss"...he was so perfectly of that time (and I was livin' in it), tho Gary Cole in "Office Space" may be the "Gen X" equivalent...great premise for a blog, Becky...

  6. Ya little sneak!
    Putting in a full days work then coming up with such a brilliant idea for a post. I'm not even mad at ya for all of these creativity.

    I've been sitting here trying to think of 'Bosses' in movies but all I could think of was Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl then theres Christian Bale as the most despicable boss ever in American Psycho. But one of my favorite BAD bosses is Kevin Spacey's character in Swimming With Sharks. (Kevin Spacey is also my favorite working actor today).

    It's late and my thinking cap is in the dryer but WELL DONE!

  7. You guys have mentioned some great additions to the boss list:

    Rick, I completely agree about William Holden as a good boss in Executive Suite. I could live with him!

    FlickChick, Fred MacMurry was a wonderful bad boss@ What a slimeball!

    Classicfilmboy, Gabriel Over the White House and The Shop Around the Corner would fit perfectly into the same movie good and bad boss perfectly. And I agree -- Rick was wonderful!

    Gypsy, I love your upside version of good boss, bad employee/child in Mildred Pierce, Johnny Eager and All About Eve. Great idea!

    Eve,I see your point about The Godfather -- I also once had a boss that was much more unfair than him! I had to put that picture of Gary Cole on top as bad boss -- I just wanted to put my foot through his .... coffee cup! Didn't you love the dream scene where Peter imagines Cole in bed with Peter's girlfriend, still holding the coffee cup and asking him to work overtime? Hilarious!

  8. Great post, Becky. Funny you should paraphrase Frankenstein's monster, as I'm fairly certain he was once my boss. As for cinematic bosses, I've always been partial to Brian Doyle-Murray in NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION (who has to be kidnapped before he sees how crappy of a boss he is) and Alan Arkin in SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER (the police captain who's only mean because a cop thinks he's too considerate and passive).

    Next up: awful employees. Suggestion: the pilfering Marion Crane in PSYCHO.

  9. Becky, as I said over at Tales of the Easily Distracted, your current blog post about bosses in movies put a big grin on my face! All the good and bad boss candidates you suggested are spot-on. Another bad boss that comes to mind comes from Jonathan Demme's 1979 Hitchcockian thriller LAST EMBRACE: Christopher Walken as beleaguered spy Roy Scheider's spymaster. Poor Roy had just left the sanitarium where he'd been recovering from a nervous breakdown caused by his wife being killed while serving as his cover on a vacation-cum-mission, and as soon as he turns up, Walken gives him his Walken, er, walking papers! I've had my share of both great and not-so-great bosses, so I could relate to your post. (Not to put the whammy on it, but my boss of the past few years happens to be not only one of my favorite bosses, but also my favorite cousin on my mother's side of the family. Talk about a win-win situation! :-)) Becky, I'm looking forward to reading your blogs regularly.

  10. Hi Page -- your comment somehow showed up after I did mine -- I don't know how that happened! You mentioned some good bad bosses, and Kevin Spacey HAS to be the worst of the bunch. And although I would like to be Superwoman, I'm not -- I talked to my boss yesterday, but I wasn't at work. LOL

    Good to hear from you, Sark. Good examples of bosses from hell. I like your idea of bad employees for a blog -- you should do that one on the Cafe!

    Welcome, Dorian! Somehow I missed Last Embrace, so I'll have to catch it. I love Walken, and his treatment of Scheider certainly puts him in the bad category. I had a boss once who was furious that I had a child at school who was suffering from projectile vomiting and a fever of 102. I had to go! He said, Why don't you get a nanny or something? (I was his secretary of about 3 months.) I just said, Mr. Johnson, she would make more per year than I do! By the end of the next week, I had another job!

  11. Becky, This is an awesome topic!! I would love for the very handsome, Gary Cooper, to be my boss.. So, I will pick the films: Ball of Fire, where it looks like he is having a lot of fun in his studies and the movie, The fountainhead where he stands by his principals.

    Everyone, has wonderful movie boss picks.

  12. Hi Dawn! Hope you get to see this -I'm a little late responding. Gary Cooper in those 2 movies would be heaven as a boss. In Ball of Fire, he would be so sweet. In the Fountainhead, he would not be sweet, but exacting, but he would appreciate good work. Great suggestions.

  13. A few examples of bosses who take an interest in their employee’s personal life, or a personal interest in their employee, with good and bad results: Monty Woolley and Bette Davis in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER; Sydney Greenstreet and Barbara Stanwyck in CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT; Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum in ANGEL FACE and (this might be a bit of a stretch) Judy Holliday and William Holden in BORN YESTERDAY.

  14. A fabulously entertaining blog!

    My daughter describes her university professors as "Professor Bad" and "Professor Good". Frankenstein certainly has a far reaching influence.

    Militarily speaking we can look at "Fort Apache". Boss bad: Col. Thursday (Henry Fonda), the arrogant cause of a massacre. Boss good: Capt. York (John Wayne) who knows and respects his enemy and knows and appreciates his men.

  15. Gypsy and Caftan Woman, I'm glad to see you here! Gypsy, great movie examples of bosses who are good and bad together -- and, though it may be a stretch, as you said, I would work overtime for William Holden even on Christmas!

    Woman -- (I couldn't decide whether to nickname you Caftan or Woman -- I picked Woman because my sons call me that all the time! OK with you?) Great example of western genre good and bad boss. Fonda was just awful - I wanted to smack him across the head! And Wayne was definitely the best. Oh, and I agree, Frankenstein certainly gets around!

  16. Great topic. I'm engaged in another online series of comments about movies and corporate life, and was looking for some "counter fodder." I discovered some here, and was reminded of others (e.g. Mildred Pierce).

    One movie with a good boss that I love for many reasons is "Big", including, but not limited to, the CEO (Jack Warden) dancing/playing the floor piano with the Tom Hanks character.

  17. Welcome, Arthur...I did have fun with this topic. Mildred Pierce is a great idea! Mildred would be a really good boss, and her smarmy so-called friend, who stole the place out from under her, would definitely be the bad. Big, too, is good - the piano scene is so famous now.

    With your approval, I would certainly like to see your on-line conversation. If that is acceptable to you, would you let me have a link to it? If not, no problem. I'm so glad you visited my site. I hope you stop by again!

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