Mr. Ramsey’s Pattern of Villainy

Mr. Ramsey (r) belittles Bill Briggs in a meeting. Image: IMDb

Spoilers start right here.

At the end of the 1956 drama, Patterns, we see Fred Staples (Van Heflin) leave the office building where he works as an executive.

Fred, recently promoted to the company’s Executive Office, thinks he’s just won a battle with his CEO, Mr. Ramsey (Everett Sloane). Naturally, he’s infused with adrenaline, and when he meets his wife, Nancy, in the lobby, his future bursts with Promise.

If only it were so.

Now, since this scene takes place at the end of the movie, we can’t know for certain what Happens Next; we can only speculate. But the film gives us plenty of indicators of how things might go for Fred. Indeed, it illustrates a pattern of behaviour for the corporation – and for Mr. Ramsey himself.

Mr. Ramsey as delightful party guest. Image: IMDb

There are a few things that immediately strike you about this movie. First, it was filmed in New York and has a rather grim texture, like a crime drama. Second, when we first see the so-called “Executive Corridor” in the company where Fred works, we’re astounded by its grandeur. Because it resembles the Galerie des Glaces in the Palace of Versailles, we know this place is meant for a king.

The king is Mr. Ramsey, and he’s called “Mr. Ramsey” by everyone in this film, which tells you all you need to know.

Mr. Ramsey borrows from an old playbook when it comes to dealing with dissenting voices in his corporation. History tells us many people in power don’t immediately eliminate their opposition; instead, they discredit and dehumanize them. Once they gain Momentum, they go in for the kill.

That is how Mr. Ramsey deals with Bill Briggs (Ed Begley), one of the company’s longest-serving executives. Bill won’t quit because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his retirement, and he doesn’t think he’ll find employment elsewhere. Still, he’s got guts: He’s the only person who openly disagrees with Mr. Ramsey.

In one executive meeting, for example, Bill objects to a proposal to close a plant and reconfigure it, a process requiring a nine-month shutdown and layoffs for hundreds of workers. Mr. Ramsey immediately leaps into a tirade, belittling and humiliating Bill. When he’s torn enough flesh from the bone, Mr. Ramsey announces, “Now, then, if Mr. Briggs’s ego has been sufficiently nourished…”

Of course, it’s Mr. Ramsey’s ego that needs to be nourished and, while he’s at it, he’ll send a message to any other would-be dissenters.

Sadly, Bill Briggs’s poor health can take only so much and, after a particularly contentious meeting, he suffers a fatal heart attack.

Gunfight in the Executive Corridor. Image: IMDb

Patterns was written by Rod Serling, who has been called “Hollywood’s angry young man”. Serling originally wrote the story as a live teleplay, which aired in 1955. It was so popular, it aired again, live, a month later. Soon the film was adapted to the big screen and released in 1956.

We can get a sense of Serling’s anger/passion in the last scene where Fred, drunk and grieving his friend’s death, marches into Mr. Ramsey’s office.

Mr. Ramsey is unsurprised by Fred’s Barging In. “I’m not a nice human being. What of it?” he says. “What do you want from me? Apologies? I don’t apologize.”

You see, Mr. Ramsey believes business belongs to the best and toughest, to those who Produce Results. What apologies are necessary?

Fred makes no apologies, either. He bluntly tells Mr. Ramsey he will fight him on every issue, and that he’s gunning for his job.

This pleases Mr. Ramsey, because he’s smart enough to know Fred’s ideas will only make him richer and more powerful.

But here’s the pattern: Ramsey thinks Fred is a good man, just as he once thought Bill Briggs was a good man, “the way grandfather clocks were good clocks”.

Fred, for all his menacing talk, is really only fresh prey, a man who Gives His All for the sake of the company. And once his usefulness has been outlived, the belittling and discrediting campaign will begin again.

This, after all, is Mr. Ramsey’s pattern of villainy.

This post is part of THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON, hosted by Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin, and yours truly.

Patterns: starring Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley. Directed by Fielder Cook. Written by Rod Serling. United Artists, 1956, B&W, 83 mins.

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29 comments

  1. In the past two years, I have turned to Patterns often on YouTube. Rod Serling captured something horrible and unchanging in the working lives of many. Your dissection of Mr. Ramsey and foretelling of Fred’s future is sharp and true. Well done, and chilling.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As I said on twitter, I used to show this film to junior executives and then divide them into pro-Ramsey and anti-Ramsey groups. We’d have some great discussions on whether Ramsey was a villain or just a tough, demanding boss. Yes, he belittled Bill, but he was right that Bill should have retired earlier. That is the beauty of Serling’s script–its shades of gray. And for the record, it’s popular to say the TV version was better, but actually I think the film version is much better. So glad you chose to highlight this great movie that should be seen by more people.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think it would have been appropriate for the company to retire Briggs with a package, but maybe that wasn’t done during this era. Those must have been some great discussions in your classes!

      Like

  3. Brilliant examination of Ramsey! I have been anxiously awaiting this post! Well done!

    as many times as I have seen this movie, I never really once thought about the pattern that would eventually rear its head… You are so right! Ramsey will do the same thing to Fred as he did to Bill!

    That final exchange between the two of them, is one of the most well-executed scenes on film! The hate that Fred feels for Ramsey radiates through the screen as that scene is happening. Fred makes it very clear that he is going to make it extremely difficult for Ramsey in the future. Such a powerful scene!

    Kudos again for a wonderful write-up on this movie! For those who have not seen it, as mentioned in the above comments, it really is a must watch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much. I totally agree with your statement re: the final exchange between Ramsey and Heflin being one of the finest on film. They’re electrifying performances. Like you said, you can feel Heflin’s hate radiating through the screen.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love your write-up, Ruth, and your choice. I’d heard about Patterns for years and was so excited when I was finally able to get my hands on a copy. The entire production is first-rate and Everett Sloane is a standout as the cold-blooded Mr. Ramsey. As usual when I read your reviews, I now want to watch this one again. Off to dust off my VHS copy . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Karen! Like you said, everything about this film is first rate, and Everett Sloane gives his character an unyielding toughness. I’ve seen this film a few times now, and I always see something new in it.

      Like

  5. I think much of what makes Ramsey so effective as a villain is that he is one that could exist in real life. There are people like Ramsey all across the business world, from small local businesses to world-wide corporations. And Everett Sloane plays him wonderfully! He is the sort of character that would get his comeuppance in an episode of another one of Rod Serling’s creations–The Twilight Zone!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed! I bet many, many people identify with Van Heflin’s and Ed Begley’s characters. When I first saw this film, years ago, I was having a similar experience with a leader in our company, although this individual was not as severe as Mr. Ramsey.

      I like your idea of putting Mr. Ramsey in an episode of The Twilight Zone!

      Like

  6. Loved this write-up, I have this in my collection but haven’t seen it yet–sure looks good, what a good cast, Sloane was so great and obviously makes the most of this meaty role. Thanks for bringing it to the blogathon and for being such a fine cohost as always, it was fun!!

    Liked by 1 person

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