Each actor gives a tour de force performance, but I cannot say enough about Everett Sloane. He is extraordinary as the intimidating, iron-fisted company president on facial features alone. His work day begins with crowded ground floor elevators. To get an idea of Sloane’s status, the elevator operator, Ed Binns, forbids anyone in one particular elevator. The one reserved for Sloane himself. He expects no less and few words are ever exchanged. When the door opens, his staff are at his beckon call.
Van Heflin and his wife, played by Beatrice Straight, arrive in New York City by invitation from Sloane after Heflin’s successful career as an industrial designer. He is a bit overwhelmed by the transition from his small Ohio town until he meets Ed Begley, the long-tenured Vice President, who reassures him with a calm demeanor. Begley has a soft spot for people. Their welfare is his first priority and that is where he is at odds with Sloane.
Heflin’s first board meeting is an eye-opener. As he has done for many years, Begley voices his concerns over one of Sloane’s business plan in full earshot of fellow board members. Building up a head of steam, remaining cordial, Sloane suddenly and repeatedly nails him to the wall in vicious verbal attacks challenging his competence, tenure and value to the company. Watching the board members sit uncomfortably staring at their folders even made me a bit uneasy. And as explosive as a conversation can possibly be, Sloane smoothly settles tensions down with reasoned foresight and a brief smile. No one dare challenge him without good reason and Begley never has had one according to Sloane. His desire is to get Begley to resign through humiliation. As if not shocked enough by his initial board meeting, Heflin is further jolted to learn his joining the company is to replace Begley. Heflin aligns himself too closely with Begley, lending support to him to the explosive ire of Sloane. Sloane is not in a popularity contest. He is there to make a profit. For his verbal support of Begley, Sloane lays into Heflin with the same viciousness for not recognizing his own potential. The shocking scene packs a wallop, and of course, completed without the habitually used R-rated language of today’s films. There is no waste of words that have no meaning or that lack self control.
Heflin later spots Begley working late into the night. Begley, perhaps with one too many shots of whisky, gets so upset referring to Sloane one thinks he is going to kill him at the next board meeting. Heflin begs him to calm down and seriously consider resigning. He is also angrily at rope’s end with stubborn Begley, who refuses to ever give Sloane any satisfaction. Begley’s path is crumbling beneath him. And he knows it.
For the next board meeting, he again gets lambasted by Sloane. So relentless and severely that Begley stands up in a rage, though speechless. He slowly and quietly apologizes to Sloane and the board as he has done for nearly thirty years. He walks out of the adjourned meeting in a trance and collapses in the hallway. He will not need to resign. Heflin believes Sloane is the catalyst for Begley’s death, knowing of his heart condition. Alone in his office, Sloane appears to briefly show sadness at this outcome but a new day of business is upon him.
The final scene is astounding. Heflin confronts Sloane, seemingly for the last time before returning to Ohio. He has had enough of New York City, the company and Sloane personally. In no uncertain terms he tells Sloane how much he hates every inch him. Heflin would do everything in his power to remove Sloane as president if he remained, however. Sloane has no problem with that and Heflin is welcome to try. Sloan defends himself by fiercely laying out his reasons for his behavioral pattern, continually challenging Heflin’s work ethic. Still in fiery conversation, out of the blue he immediately doubles Heflin’s salary and stock options. Without even a blink, Heflin also wants to inherit Begley’s “single dream” of breaking Sloane's jaw someday. Slightly amused, Sloane agrees and adds a rider giving him the same privilege to Heflin's jaw.