Patterns (1954): Film Version of Rod Serling’s Teleplay about Corporate America, Starring Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley

Fielder Cook directed Patterns, a drama starring Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, and Ed Begley.

The screenplay by Rod Serling was an adaptation of his teleplay Patterns originally telecast January 12, 1955 on the Kraft Television Theatre, which starred Sloane, Begley and Richard Kiley.

The tale is set in the corporate boardroom and surrounding offices of Ramsey & Co., a Manhattan industrial empire headed by the ruthless Walter Ramsey.

He brings youthful industrial engineer Fred Staples, whose work at a company Ramsey has recently acquired has impressed him, to do an executive job at the head office. Ramsey is grooming Staples to replace the aging Bill Briggs as the company’s second in command.

Briggs has been with the firm for decades, having worked for and admired the company’s founder, Ramsey’s father. His concern for the employees clashes with Ramsey’s ruthless methods. Ramsey does everything in his power to sabotage and humiliate him into resigning, but the old man refuses to give in.

The stress gets to Briggs, who collapses after a confrontation with Ramsey and later dies. This causes a heated showdown between Ramsey and Staples, in which Staples announces he is quitting.

In the end, Ramsey persuades him to stay, as he is the only one who can function at Briggs’ level. Staples accepts a promotion with double his salary and stock options but warns Ramsey he will replace him in the company.

Staples also tells Ramsey of Briggs’ “one pitiful little dream” of someday walking in and breaking Ramsey’s jaw. He now reserves that dream for himself. Ramsey says he’ll have it written into the contract agreement and will attach a special rider giving him the same privilege. Ramsey notes that Briggs’ son will be “taken care of” and Staples asks if that will let him sleep better tonight. Ramsey smiles and acknowledges that Staples has now taken on Briggs’ adversarial role, saying: “It begins, eh?”

The film’s goal was to examine corporate America and those at the top, while revealing how money and power corrupt.

The script makes some major changes from the teleplay. After the death of Andy Sloane, Staples is shown at a bar, where his wife comes to pick him up and take him home, insisting he is in no condition to drive. Staples is more insistent in the film.

The final confrontation between Staples and Ramsey takes place the next day, not immediately afterwards.

For the film, Andy Sloane’s name was altered to “Bill Briggs.” Also, Ramsey and Company is depicted as a corporate machine, with expansive quarters downtown. And the company does things “in a big way.” In the teleplay, Staples tells Ramsey he and his wife have “found a house,” but the film has Staples moving into a big home provided by the company, stocked with “all the essentials,” beer in the ice box and food in the freezer.

While Sloane and Begley reprised their roles, Heflin replaced Kiley in the role of Fred Staples, though at 46, he was too old to play a junior executive. But Serling also changed Staples’s character. Instead of a junior-level manager of small factory that had done some sub-contracting work for Ramsey, he was now the manager of a much larger facility taken over by Ramsey and Company, and whose performance there in keeping the factory afloat during that period impressed Ramsey enough to hire Staples direct.

In the teleplay, the execs talk of having expected a much older man, which was also omitted from the film.

Van Heflin as Fred Staples
Everett Sloane as Walter Ramsey
Ed Begley as William Briggs
Beatrice Straight as Nancy Staples, Fred’s wife
Elizabeth Wilson as Marge Fleming, Briggs’ loyal secretary, reassigned to Staples
Joanna Roos as Miss Margaret Lanier, Ramsey’s secretary
Valerie Cossart as Miss Stevens
Eleni Kiamos as Sylvia Trammel
Ronnie Welsh as Paul Briggs, William’s teenage son
Shirley Standlee as Miss Hill
Andrew Duggan as Mr. Jameson
Jack Livesey as Mr. Vanderventer
John Seymour as Mr. Gordon
James Kelly as Mr. Latham
John Shelly as Mr. Grannigan


TCM showed this movie on August 20, 2021 as part of a tribute to Van Heflin.