The Secret Of My Success Review
Arriving at the height of Michael J. Fox’s early stardom, The Secret Of My Success was a film built solely for Fox to prosper, and for the distribution company to prosper off Fox. He plays Brantley Foster, a well-schooled country lad dreaming of making it big in the business world, so sets out to the city of New York in the hopes that it could happen. He quickly learns that it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and soon realises his hard earned qualifications don’t seem to be getting him very far, so he goes to his rich, company owning Uncle, Howard Prescott (Richard Jordan) for help. He gives him a job in the mailroom but Foster longs for more, so when he’s mistaken for being an executive, under the guise of a new identity he starts doing what he always wanted, while keeping clear of the ever growing suspicions of his Uncle.
This enjoyable comedy’s main attribute is Michael J. Fox. The fresh-faced teen idol was quickly becoming an iconic figure in late 1980’s pop-culture, and his leading role status was a virtual guarantee of box office gold. It isn’t surprising then, that he was picked for the lead in The Secret Of My Success, and at the time, the title and premise of the movie was very close to the actor’s own ambitions. Here he looks totally relaxed and at ease with the role, showing the vitality and spirit he brought to Marty in Back To The Future and in subsequent roles. The idea of eighties go-getters and the yuppie lifestyles of those that have, juxtaposed with those that don’t is a tricky subject to balance, but while the writing and direction is solid, it is Fox who provides the heart to the character who would otherwise be someone who just wanted to be better than everyone else.
Director Herbert Ross has had a fairly solid career behind the camera with some stand out films and some that he’d much rather forget, although here his effort rather echoes his career. He maintains a good pace throughout and allows the actors to work with the material, but he doesn’t pay enough attention to the background details of the characters with Foster’s early life slightly more important than it is given credit for, and love interest Chrissy Wills (Helen Slater) being awfully one-dimensional. It is an unfortunate part of the writing that the character of Wills is so much based on stereotype – that of women breaking away from social constraints and providing for themselves. Slater doesn’t give the character anything more than is written and the romantic angle between her and Foster falls flat.
Three writers are never better than one, or at least in 99% of occasions so it is unsurprising that while the script is streamlined and at times very funny, some characters are left stuck in the woodwork. AJ Carothers, Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. all appear capable of stringing a story together and making it work for a mass audience but it is the finer details where they fall up on. The romantic storyline feels a little forced, while Wills is a cardboard cut out and Foster’s boss Prescott lacks an emotional core. And for all intents and purposes the plot of Foster pretending to be an executive and nobody asking any questions is fairly unbelievable. However, suspend your disbelief and all is well because while the script has its flaws it is still extremely funny at times. The writers have managed to utilise Prescott’s wife Vera (Margaret Whitton) to excellent effect, playing on the idea that she uses her husband for money. Also, as a terrific sub-plot she begins to lust after Foster’s executive alter-ego - Carlton Whitfield, not knowing that he is in fact her nephew.
All in all, this is an enjoyable comedy that has eighties business life written all over it. The very eighties sounding soundtrack dates the film no end and becomes a little annoying but Michael J. Fox is on top form and he’s supported by some funny comedy, and a great turn by Margaret Whitton.
The picture is presented as non-anamorphic 1.85:1. Whilst being non-anamorphic the picture is still quite good, with the image sharp and clear. Colours are natural, but there is a distinct blandness about them. The photography is quite bland anyway, with New York exteriors and interiors shown as gray, colourless places but I think the blandness is accentuated by the fact that the picture is non-anamorphic. Darkly lit scenes are excellently portrayed however, with the image remaining clear and not getting overly dark. The print used is in fairly good condition with no noticeable damage but there is a distinct amount of grain especially seen in long shots with clear backgrounds and on lighter scenes, it can be seen on people’s faces.
The sound is unfortunately only presented as Dolby Digital 2.0. It is a little unclear at times, with dialogue getting drowned by sound effects. The music isn’t very crisp either, playing along with a vague hiss in the background. Listening to the track using 2-speaker nicam stereo on the TV, the problems are less apparent but when playing through a full speaker set-up, they show up much more. Additionally, dialogue is very central with no real surround feel.
Production Notes - These notes are actually very good detailing the films early production. Small snippets of interviews with the director and Michael J. Fox are included which are interesting to read.
Cast and Director Biographies/filmographies - These offer very little information. Included are Michael J. Fox, Helen Slater, Richard Jordan, Margaret Whitton, and director Herbert Ross.
Theatrical Trailer - a funny trailer but of low quality. Presented as 1.85:1 non-anamorphic.
A funny Michael J. Fox vehicle is presented on a barely adequate disc, and it lacks any extras of real note.