Monday 10 October 2022

Movie Review: Patterns (1956)

A corporate boardroom drama, Patterns (also known as Patterns Of Power) reveals ruthless dynamics among men at capitalism's highest echelons.

Engineer Fred Staples (Van Heflin) and his wife Nancy (Beatrice Straight) relocate from Ohio to Manhattan, where Fred is joining the executive team at the massive Ramsey & Co industrial conglomerate. The firm is run with an iron fist by Walter Ramsey (Everett Sloane), and he sees Fred as a replacement for William Briggs (Ed Begley), a senior executive with 40 years of experience, but now in failing health.

Ramsey no longer trusts Briggs' judgment, and does all he can to humiliate him into resigning. Staples is caught between the two men. He admires Briggs' common touch and concern for workers, but is also ambitious. A showdown looms when Ramsey refuses to acknowledge Briggs' contributions to an important report.

Staples: I just hope Mr. Ramsey remembers hiring me.
Briggs: Mr. Ramsey rarely forgets anything.

A cinematic adaptation of a teleplay written by Rod Serling, Patterns infiltrates the penthouse level of a New York highrise to uncover the jungle rules of corporate backstabbing and ladder climbing. Clocking in at an efficient 84 minutes, director Fielder Cook keeps the drama at the theatrical scale of intimacy, but allows his cameras to roam among several locations, including the Staples home, the building lobby, and most impressively, the lavish hallway connecting the senior executive offices, where secretaries with their own hierarchy dutifully follow orders.

Within the short running time, Serling focuses on one net zero theme - Briggs' downfall coinciding with Staples' rise - and is quick to resort to plenty of agitated arguments, escalating into some tedious shouting matches. And for a smart man, Staples is often slow to read the room and discern his trajectory.

Ramsey: Name your terms. All terms are negotiable.

But the background contexts are still impactful. Briggs laments the loss of an era when bosses knew their workers by name, and growth came from productivity and innovation rather than acquiring bankrupt companies. Staples starts to understand why he was hand-picked by Ramsey, and what it takes to be a leader at a mammoth corporation.

The three leads rise to the challenge in dominant performances. Everett Sloane shines in conveying an unshakeable belief that Ramsey is the smartest man in the room, berating others to catch up. Ed Begley embodies Briggs' final stand, and Van Heflin straddles the middle, the drama seen through his eyes. Beatrice Straight as Nancy reveals the depth of Serling's writing, her character demonstrating calm agility at moments of highest stress.

Staples: I don't want the job. I'm through, I'm quitting, I resign as of now.
Ramsey: Why?
Staples: Because I hate your guts. You used Bill Briggs for a whipping boy. You made him knuckle under, then you beat him to death. You wouldn't try anything like that with me because I'd kill you first.
Ramsey: I'm not a nice human being. What else?

Offering no easy answers but plenty of brutal reality checks, Patterns merges dark and light into a cross-cutting perspective.

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