Studio: Mirisch Corporation
Screenplay: David Swift
(based on the book of the play by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock & Willie Gilbert)
(play based on a novel by Shepherd Mead)
Director: David Swift
Choreographer: Based on choreography of stage play by Bob Fosse
"How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying" is the story of an ambitious young man's quick rise to the top of a large company. Pierpont Finch is a window cleaner who uses a book on how to succeed in business to get to one of the top positions in a company by doing as little work as possible. On the way to the top, Ponty meets and falls in love with Rosemary, an executive secretary in the company.
Robert Morse plays J. Pierpont Finch (Ponty), a window washer who discovers a book entitled, "How to Succeed in Business." Ponty starts reading the book and learns how to move up the executive ladder in a large company.
Ponty starts in the mailroom and learns quickly that he needs to move out of that location. The head of the mailroom is promoted and he wants Ponty to take his place but Ponty suggests that the job should go to Bud Frump, the nephew of the company's CEO, J. B. Biggley (Rudy Vallee). This generous action impresses J. B. and, as a reward, Ponty is promoted to a junior executive.
On his way up the corporate ladder, Ponty meets Rosemary (Michelle Lee), an executive secretary in the company. Rosemary is immediately attracted to Ponty and when he expresses frustration that he is not rising fast enough in the company, she gives him encouragement and inspiration.
Ponty, to impress J.B., pretends he worked all night and he makes certain that J.B. finds him on Saturday morning sleeping at his desk. He then lies to J.B. and says he went to the same university as J.B. These lies get Ponty another promotion.
J. B. has a girlfriend on the side, Hedy Larue. Hedy is beautiful, sexy and very dumb, but she wants a good job at the company. She is assigned to Ponty as his secretary and Ponty uses her to get his immediate boss, Mr. Gatch, fired. Ponty is then advanced to Mr. Gatch's executive position.
Ponty wants to rise further in the company so, using the advice in his book, he advances himself to a position in the advertising department. This, however, does not work out well for Ponty. His new boss has the same book that Ponty has been reading and none of the ideas in the book work with the new boss who, recognizing Ponty's tactics, fires him.
Ponty tries to save his career and, by trickery and by luck, he finds a way to do it. Ponty is then promoted to head of the advertising department, but this, too, backfires. J. B. wants a great advertising idea from Ponty, and once again taking advice from his book, Ponty steals an idea from Bud Frump. What Ponty doesn't know, however, is that J. B. hated the idea when Bud presented it to him a few months earlier.
Ponty presents Bud's idea for a treasure hunt TV show to J. B. and the other executives and he convinces J. B. to accept the idea. J. B. insists, however, that Hedy should be the show's Treasure Girl. This turns into a disaster for Ponty and the company. The head of the board, Wally, is ready to fire the guilty party (Ponty), but Ponty finds a way out of this mess, too. In the end, Wally marries Hedy and retires and Ponty becomes the chairman of the board and marries Rosemary.