This was Lehman's first produced screenplay, and its plot deviates substantially from the novel. He would go on to write Sabrina, North By Northwest, West Side Story, and other significant films. The film is one of few in Hollywood history without a musical score, although the song "Singin' in the Rain" is sung by Mike Walling while he is off-camera taking a shower. The song appears in many MGM films during the period when its lyricist Arthur Freed was a producer at the studio.
While in New York City to meet with investment bankers, 56-year-old Avery Bullard, president and driving force of the Tredway Corporation, a major furniture manufacturing company in the town of Millburgh, Pennsylvania, drops dead in the street. As he collapses in the street, he drops his wallet. It is picked up by a bystander, emptied of its cash, and shoved into a wastebasket. Without the wallet, there is no way to immediately identify the body as Bullard.
George Caswell, a member of the Tredway board of directors and one of the investment bankers with whom Bullard had just met, sees what he believes is Bullard's body in the street below their offices and decides to profit from the information. He engages a broker to make a short sale of as much Tredway stock as he can before the end of trading that Friday afternoon. Caswell plans to make an easy profit and cover the sale by buying Tredway stock at "a 10-point discount" on Monday, when news of Bullard's death will presumably push the stock price down. Caswell begins to doubt that it was Bullard who died, but when he reads in a newspaper that the man had the initials "A.B." on his clothes and cufflinks, he calls the police to tip them off to the identity of the deceased.
Bullard had never named his successor. Over the next 28 hours, Tredway's executives vie for the position of president. Once news of his death reaches Tredway, company controller Loren Shaw takes the initiative in arranging Bullard's funeral and coordinating the company's public reaction. In so doing, he undercuts treasurer Frederick Alderson, one of Bullard's closest friends. Shaw also shrewdly releases the upcoming quarterly report so that the good news of big profits can counter the news and perhaps even raise the stock price when the market opens.
Ambitious but narrowly focused, Shaw is concerned more with short-term accounting gains and satisfying the stockholders than the quality of the company's actual products and long-term growth. He holds the proxy of Julia Tredway, the daughter of the company's founder, who is still a major shareholder and board member. She had been in a difficult romantic relationship with Bullard for many years, coming second behind the company.
Shaw buys Caswell's vote in exchange for allowing Caswell to purchase 4,000 shares of company stock at the Friday closing price to cover his "shady" short sale. If Caswell does not get those shares, he will be in serious financial trouble.
Treasurer Alderson and Don Walling, the idealistic Vice President for Design and Development, are determined to prevent Shaw from taking over. After considering all the contenders, Walling convinces Alderson that Walling himself should be president. Walling is a strong believer in developing new products and more efficient manufacturing methods, although his wife, Mary, is against his giving up his dream of being a full-time designer. The decision process is further complicated by soon to retire Vice President of Manufacturing Jesse Grimm's opposition to Walling's relative youth. Meanwhile, Walt Dudley, back-slapping Vice President of Sales, is having an affair with his secretary, Eva Bardeman, for which Shaw is now blackmailing him.
At an emergency board meeting on Saturday evening, the machinations, bargaining and maneuvering culminate with Walling's enthusiasm, vision and his stirring boardroom speech eventually changing Julia Tredway's mind and resulting in his unanimous election as company president.William Holden as McDonald "Don" Walling, Vice President for Design and Development
Fredric March as Loren Phineas Shaw, Vice President and Controller
Walter Pidgeon as Frederick Y. Alderson, Vice President and Treasurer
Paul Douglas as J. Walter Dudley, Vice President for Sales
Barbara Stanwyck as Julia O. Tredway, daughter and heir of the founder of Tredway
Louis Calhern as George Nyle Caswell, board member
Dean Jagger as Jesse Q. Grimm, Vice President for Manufacturing
Nina Foch as Erica Martin, secretary to the late CEO, Avery Bullard
Shelley Winters as Eva Bardeman, secretary to Walter Dudley, as well as his mistress
June Allyson as Mary Blemond Walling, wife of Don Walling
Tim Considine as Mike Walling, son of Don Walling
William Phipps as Bill Lundeen, a manager reporting to Don Walling
According to MGM records the film earned $2,682,000 in the US and Canada and $903,000 outside, resulting in a profit of $772,000.
Awards and nominations
The film received four Academy Award nominations:Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Nina Foch)
Best Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons, Edward Carfagno, Edwin B. Willis, Emile Kuri)
Best Costume Design
The film also received two BAFTA Awards nominations:Best Film from any source
Best Actor (Fredric March)
The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival for best ensemble acting for the entire cast.
More than two decades later, the film and novel were adapted into a weekly dramatic television series with the same title. Airing on CBS in 1976-77, the TV version changed the fictional corporate setting to the Cardway Corporation in Los Angeles. Mitchell Ryan starred as company chairman Dan Walling, with Sharon Acker as his wife, Helen and Leigh McCloskey and Wendy Phillips as his children, Brian and Stacey. Other series regulars included Stephen Elliott, Byron Morrow, Madlyn Rhue, William Smithers, Paul Lambert, Richard Cox, Trisha Noble, Carl Weintraub, Maxine Stuart, and Ricardo Montalban.
Scheduling opposite Monday Night Football on ABC and then The Rockford Files on NBC doomed the show to poor ratings, and it was canceled after one season.