Words by Blythe Alspaugh
If you haven’t seen “The Secret of My Succe$s” (yes, there really is a dollar sign in the title), you’re missing out on a quintessential piece of ‘80s cinema.
This 1987 film embodies practically everything the ‘80s has to offer American pop culture—including saxophone solos that would make George Michael envious, cheesy fantasy dream sequences that take place in the middle of corporate lobbies and two people staring for an uncomfortably long amount of time into each other’s eyes—and that’s all in just one scene.
After graduating college, Brantley Foster, portrayed by Michael J. Fox, moves from Kansas to New York City in the hopes of taking over the business world, “making lots of money and having a meaningful experience with an incredibly beautiful woman.”
As it goes with any film that follows a small town kid to the big city, Foster is met with rejections from any and every company where he submits his resume—he needs a job to gain experience, but can’t get a job without experience (does this sound familiar to anyone else? No? Just me? OK, then).
He finally resorts to his emergency plan and goes to the Pemrose Corporation to contact his uncle, who happens to be the company’s CEO. After a very brief and somewhat hostile exchange, Foster secures a position as a mailroom clerk. In the following scene, he finds himself by a lobby drinking fountain where he meets Christy Wills—and, apparently, Christy isn’t the only one who’s thirsty.
There’s no other way to describe that scene by the drinking fountain than by simply stating that it, like the rest of this movie, is quintessentially ‘80s.
Though working in the mailroom is a minor setback, Foster works it to his advantage by pulling stockholder information and taking over the office of a ‘suit’ (re: jargon for businessmen and women) who had recently been laid off by the company. He takes on the pseudonym of Carlton Whitfield and leads a double life at Pemrose Corporation, alternating between delivering mail and spitting business talk. He also splits his time between chasing Wills and running from his uncle’s wife Vera, who is coincidentally chasing him.
It occurs to me that perhaps half of this movie’s success is owed to the fact that, more than once, we see Michael J. Fox in his prime stripped down to his boxers as he switches from Foster to Whitfield and back again—but that’s beside the point.
Eventually, Foster is invited to a weekend party at his uncle’s estate, where he chats up business professionals as Carlton Whitfield. As Brantley Foster, he keeps an eye out for his pseudonym-clad doppelganger, Carlton Whitfield—all per his uncle’s request.
The climactic point of the movie takes place that evening, after everyone has gone off to bed—or so it seems. Both Foster and his uncle leave their rooms in search of Wills, and both Wills and Vera leave their rooms in search of Foster. Somehow, in this exchange, Foster ends up in the same bed with his uncle, and shortly after, Wills and Vera enter the room. An argument breaks out, a few hearts are broken and it’s revealed that Foster and Whitfield are the same person. It pretty much goes without saying, but both Foster and Wills are fired from Pemrose Corporation.
Without giving away too much of the movie and the ending, Foster comes out on top in more ways than one.
Although it only has a rating of 58 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, “The Secret of My Succe$s” is one of my favorite ‘80s movies. Maybe it’s because my favorite actor is in it, or maybe it’s because of the reactive, semi-sarcastic humor and physical comedy, but this movie has a unique charm to it that keeps a person entertained—even if that person, like me, knows next to nothing about business. It’s definitely one of those movies that I watch when I’ve got the time and I want to laugh at what’s going on, and more often than not, the musical cues that go with what’s going on. All in all, I give it three and a half out of five stars.