It has dawned on me that I have probably used "The Secret of My Succe$s" as an example in class more than just about any other film ever made. Part of the reason is that most students have seen this film, so I am likely to get nods of recognition more than if I mention "Battleship Potemkin" or "Citizen Kane." This 1987 comedy tells the story of Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox), who heads from his family's farm in Kansas to the Big Apple to put his business degree to use, but all he can get is a job in the mail room of a firm owned by a distant uncle (Richard Jordan). Brantley comes up with a short cut but there comes a moment when he has to step up to the plate and impress a group of potential investors with a brilliant idea. We see Brantley explain but his idea to an enthralled group of rich businessmen, but...WE HEAR NOTHING. The script by Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr. and AJ Carothers ("and" does not mean the same thing as "&" in Hollywood) could not come up with anything good enough to carry the scene so they just turned up the music and figured if we had enjoyed the movie to that point and if we liked Michael J. Fox then we would just buy this and proceed to the happy ending.
Contrast this with the movie that might be the one I mention second most in class, "The Karate Kid," and the great scene where Mr. Miyagi explains to Daniel-san that "sand the floor" means a whole lot than he ever imagined. That is the sort of scene that makes an entire movie, and "The Secret of My Success" has a big hole where that scene should be. There are more holes in this film, which allow Brantley to create the persona of Carlton Whitfield, a young executive in a previous empty office (being in the mailroom has its advantages in such a scheme) and provide a fairy godmother in the person of his Aunt Vera (Margaret Whitton). Meanwhile, Brantley (or Whitfield, depending on your perspective), is interested in Christy Wills (Helen Slater), who is introduced in the most erotic display of drinking from a water fountain in the history of American cinema.
This is Michael J. Fox's movie and his engaging performance forgives most of the film's faults in this mindless comedy (mindless in that you will like the film if you mind the holes in it less). Actually, I was amazed to really see how many stupid things happen in "The Secret of My Succe$s," but I still like Fox's performance. If nothing else, this film is a reminder that Fox was a gifted physical comedien. The world of business does not come out looking well, but then it is hard to find too many movies in the past twenty years that make you think kindly towards big business.
on December 8, 2003
"The Secret of My Success" owes all its minimal success to the casting of Michael J. Fox, one of the most likable screen presences in all of film history. In "Back to the Future," he was the overwhelmed high schooler who accidentally traveled back in time to 1955 and had to find a way back. In "Teen Wolf," he was the highschooler turned into a werewolf. In "The Hard Way," one of the best cop-buddy films of all time, he was the eager-to-please Hollywood actor trying to do some good-natured research.
All his roles fall back on the Sweet Guy persona. In "The Secret of My Success," he plays Brantley, a Kansas boy who makes the big move to the Big Apple, where he lands a job at his uncle Howard's (Richard Jordan) firm. He gradually makes his way up the ladder as a mail boy, but his real break comes when he is mistaken for a higher-up and tries to woo hard-to-get girl Christy (Helen Slater), a beautiful co-worker of the company who buys Brantley's job position.
Simple premise, but it becomes all the more entangled when Brantley has to run back and forth between different job positions, changing clothes in the elevator and getting in a heated affair with his uncle's wife (played by Margaret Whitton), the kind of lady who doesn't take no for an answer.
The film's amorality is what struck me on multiple viewings. It sort of seems dirty and unclean -- Brantley's a farm boy but he's eager to get in a romance with his aunt. The casual sexuality of the film is what, ultimately, makes it sort of disturbing, and also sort of memorable, as odd as that may sound.
Fox shines in the lead role, and with any other actor the film would simply fall flat on its face. And, to be honest, a film like this could never be made nowadays -- I can imagine Jim Carrey in such a role, but the outcome would be wholly different. The eighties were an entire generation of comedy unto themselves. A lot of people love the comedies from the eighties because so many were made with so little thought and yet a lot of heart, kind of like "The Secret of My Success." Its mediocrity is what drives it, amazingly, but also its heart, and so many comedies nowadays lack the heart of the comedies from the eighties.
I come back to "The Secret of My Success" a lot, probably because I saw it on TV when I was younger and it's been in my head ever since. It's a routine film that's hardly recommendable, but I actually enjoy it a lot the more I watch it, and it has a kind of frenetic comedic energy that most of the films of the genre are lacking nowadays.
The script, by Jim Cash nd Jack Epps Jr., seems as though it were one from an earlier decade. It has a delightful sweetness to it that's simply not unnoticeable.
I understand how many would dislike this film. The critic Roger Ebert gave "The Secret of My Success" 1.5/4 stars upon its inital release in 1987. I can't say I wouldn't have, either, if I were in his shoes. But comedies, over time, sort of grow on you, and this is one of those cases.
It's not as good as "Back to the Future," or "The Hard Way," but it's a lot like Fox's "Teen Wolf" (1985): fast-paced, extremely routine, cliched, flawed, and lots of fun. Don't miss this one, even if it isn't exactly the pinnacle of comedy.
on April 16, 2002
I think a good test of how good or bad a movie is, is by how long it feels. Some 90 m. movies feel like three hours and vice versa. Secret of My Success feels like a half an hour. That's pretty good.
Brantley moves from Kansas to NYC in order to make it in the corporate world. Problem: he gets laid off even before he starts. He's a trooper, though, and doesn't want to run home with his tail between his legs so he goes to his Uncle Howard for a job. It's not exactly what Brantley envisioned as he is stuck in the mailroom. Using corporate bureaucracy against itself, he manages to swing a job as a vice-president. It gets pretty funny from there as Brantley tries to maintain two identities without being found out. The elevator scenes are priceless!
This movie is the definitive eighties comedy. Michael J. Fox gets to showcase his screwball comedy antics and the rest of the cast is equally fine. Helen Slater stands out as a female executive that manages to break through the glass ceiling only to be pressed up against it and fondled by the smarmy CEO. "Auntie Vera" is also a hoot as the sex-starved wife of Uncle Howard.
The DVD doesn't offer too much in the way of extras, but that's okay because the movie alone is worth having on disc. Get this one right away.
on August 6, 2001
This is not really the drum I march to, but I do have to give credit where credit is due. First, I will say that this movie DOES NOT hide behind effects or excessive obscenities. Nor does it try to force feed us any politics. Well, let me start on the film's merits. Fox's first bit of ill fortune is dramatic BUT plausible. (Good!) His desperate run to his distant uncle is drawn well. Although he does not really state his frustraion at the job he manages to get, we can clearly see it. (Great!) The company is drawn well. To put this in civil language, the certain breeches of sacramental promises, the favors given of a PG 13 nature for promotions on the job, the suits who have the childish 'I'm going to tell' attitude, the suits who can never figure out what to do, and the rare suits like Davis who try to be honest and do their job right, all give us a very realistic picture of this kind of environment. The mail room is also drawn very well. Mel and Fox's boss are very well drawn! I was in a situation once where the workers on the low end of the scale clearly had a higher sense of awareness of what was going on. There were the very few Davises (the more honest and honorable suits), but most of the suits did not fall into this category. Mel clearly shows us someone who has little if anything to lose; so he does not delude himself into going along with the present politics of the environment; he is aware of what goes on; he is cautious to avoid interaction with people better avoided; and his loyalty to Fox is clearly drawn. Fox's boss is also very well drawn. Unlike the suits in charge, he is not smooth. Rather he is quite loud. Somehow, we are given the impression that he is on the intelligent side. At one point, he displays understandable frustration at the suits: 'This is a messenger service! Not a car service!" I DO NOT think it was an accident that this is the character who was the FIRST one to stumble across finding Fox's double game. I don't want to ruin the ending for those of you who have not seen it. So I will just say, it is a memorable fight between politics and reality. Chances are, you will never find this movie boring. The scenery may not be Franco Zeffirelli's, but it is surprisingly well done. If you see this movie, pick it up.
on October 9, 2002
What a perfect movie for Michael J. Fox. He truly is a funny person. He carried off this movie completely. By showing the culture shock of leaving the farm and coming to the big city and living in a place that should be condemend, is an accurate pictorial of what it can be like. The directing scene in his studio apartment is so funny. Furthermore, I can relate to his determination in succeeding. How he goes about accomplishing this is so inspiring. However, the best part is when they are all in the main house running from room to room is hilarious. To top if all off, they come back together to pull off the take over and become friends. What a corky way to establish success. With the boss's wife being such a flirt, putting it mildly, this actress played the part very well. Your in the game if you get to sit and rub elbows with the suits and talk business on the lawn. This was a very funny movie; great job.
on April 3, 2004
A fairly strong recommendation for a charming feel-good entertainer about a young gun making it to the top, starting of course from the mail roon. We might as well have called it "The secret of how I succeeded without really trying". The script is thus obviously doozy and relies on some major implausible situational gaffes, but the energy of Michael Fox and the brilliant comic timing of Margaret Whitton as his aunt makes it all borderline credible. Plus, the snappy final half hour is the best part of the film, with some thoughtful romance thrown in for good measure. I guess we all have a hint of Bradley (Fox' character) buried in ourselves. A fun rental to lighten things up.
on October 25, 1999
Okay, so maybe it really deserves 3 and 1/2 stars. As someone who went to college in the 1980s and did the New York corporate ladder thing, though, this film, for some reason, captures those times better than any I've seen. The nervous tics, the lack of trust, the yearning for intimacy, overall cluelessness, even the earnest act of pretending not to take any of it too seriously, all very authentic. Is it a put on? Yeah, but so were the 80s. So don't rent "Wall Street" or any of the other films of this genre which take themselves way too seriously. Fox and Slater deliver the goods, though you might forget what film you were watching two hours later.
on February 16, 2002
Can it be possible for anyone to become successful in a matter of weeks? A boy name Brantley Foster (Actor Michael J. Fox) who is freshly out of college comes to New York from Kansas to take on the corporate world, only to find himself working in the mailroom.
Brantley, the new mail boy, tries to prove that he can become a big shot executive in record time. However, his plans to climb the corporate ladder begins to go awry when the boss's wife falls in love with him and he falls in love with a junior executive, who also happens to be the boss's mistress in this fast moving comedy that will have audiences laughing.
on March 12, 2001
I really was smitten with this comedy, and it is now marked as one of my all-time favorite films! Helen and Michael have really good chemistry together as Chrissy Wells and Brantly Foster(a.k.a. Carlton Whitfield)! First Michael is definately smitten by her when he first meets her at the water fountain, and then he grows fond of her more as they go out together! If I had to pick a favorite scene, it would be when they share their first kiss on the boat! True magic right there! It's too bad they didn't make a sequal to this, it would have been great to see the both of them again!
on May 24, 1999
Contrary to most reviews, I found the film to be funny, feel-good and refreshing. Although completely fantastical and somewhat predictable, the pace never seems to slow as "Carlton" manuevers his way up the company ladder. Michael J. Fox is the fuel for this one, but the supporting cast is clever and witty as well, and plenty of memorable one-liners enhance the entire film. A light, non-violent, innocent look at life in the city, and a nice soundtrack too...