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The Barefoot Executive DVD Review

The Barefoot Executive (1971) movie poster - click to buy from MovieGoods.com The Barefoot Executive

Theatrical Release: March 17, 1971 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Robert Butler

Cast: Kurt Russell (Steven Post), Joe Flynn (Francis X. Wilbanks), Harry Morgan (E.J. Crampton), Wally Cox (Mertons), Heather North (Jennifer Scott), Alan Hewitt (Farnsworth), Hayden Rorke (Clifford), John Ritter (Roger), Jack Bender (Tom), Tom Anfinsen (Dr. Schmidt)
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Many people mark the period after Walt's death as a low point for the Disney studio. Admittedly, the number and quality of animated films decreased. But while the live action output was of a different composition from the types of films released a decade earlier,
many of the post-Walt films achieve the same solid level of quality entertainment.

In the 1970s, young Kurt Russell was a certified Disney star and one of the centerpieces of the studio's "wacky comedies" genre. Not long before he was known as Snake Plissken, he was Dexter Riley in three upbeat college comedies for Disney based on fantastical premises. It was in between the first Dexter Riley film, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and its 1972 sequel Now You See Him, Now You Don't, that Russell headlined this project, The Barefoot Executive, which feels like it could be the animal cousin of that trilogy.

Here Russell plays Steven Post, an ambitious young mailroom boy at the fictional television network UBC. Steve has lots of ideas about how to improve the station's programming and his latest is the can't-fail "Abraham Lincoln's Doctor's Dog." But the station's manager Francis X. Wilbanks (Joe Flynn, Russell's semi-nemesis dean from the Dexter Riley movies) doesn't take any of Steve's ideas seriously.

At the film's start, Steven Post (Kurt Russell, right) is just a low page at the network. While Steve's girlfriend Jen sleeps, he enjoys a night of Chicken Lickin' and TV research with Raffles the chimp.

The "wacky" element comes into play when Steve is at the apartment of his girlfriend Jen (Heather North), who is Wilbanks' personal assistant. Jen's neighbors suddenly leave for San Francisco, but that environment wouldn't be suitable for their pet chimpanzee Raffles. So, being the thoughtful young lady she is, Jen agrees to look after it. Steve doesn't think much of Raffles, and they soon disagree over what to watch on television, with the mailboy generally thinking the opinionated monkey is fond of lousy programs. When the ratings come in the next day, though, Steve notices that every show the chimp clapped for and insisted on watching brought in the highest number of viewers.

After some further testing, Steve is convinced that this chimpanzee can instantly determine which shows will be popular and which will not. A chimp so in touch with human tastes that he can predict winners or losers on sight? That's a wacky premise, no? Just the kind suited to some good, clean, silly but entertaining Disney fun!

Rather than letting the world know of this legitimate phenomenon, Steven keeps Raffles' powers of induction a big secret. He lets his superiors at the network know of his skill, but he doesn't reveal the source. He doesn't even enlighten Jen, in whose custody the chimp is supposed to be, instead buying her a replacement monkey to keep Raffles for himself.

That's not the regular plumber! Huh, what monkey?!

The system that Steve and the insightful chimp work out is flawless. With a response of applause or the blowing of raspberries, Raffles lets Steve and therefore, the network, know of a show's fate. Steve finds the successful insight bringing him a rise in stature, while naturally Raffles gets no credit.
Soon, Steve is promoted to Vice President of UBC, named TV's Man of the Year at the Emmys, and receiving a new car and a luxurious suite on Wilshire Boulevard. Steve's placement of ambition before honesty does not entirely get lost in the comedy shuffle. In fact, his personal moral dilemma provides an unexpected element of pathos in the film.

In the lead role, Russell is charismatic and the film is always more entertaining with him on screen. The same can be said for Raffles, who makes you want to have your own little chimpanzee companion. Heather North takes her romantic interest part fairly seriously and is likable as the film's (too forgiving) moral center. In a role not unlike Dean Higgins, Joe Flynn provides some witty moments as the oft-grumpy and oft-befuddled honcho Wilbanks who doesn't deal well with having to answer to his superiors. The performance mildly ascends the cookie-cutter bad guy role. As Wilbanks' nephew Roger, John Ritter (of "Three's Company" fame) makes a memorable big screen debut. Ritter emulates the look of Flynn, with thick spectacles and small sideburns, as well as his temperament to those below him. Also adding some flavor is Wally Cox as Mertons, Wilbanks' wheezy, snort-laughing chauffeur.

The film loses quite a bit of steam when it becomes solely about the other network executives and their efforts to get possession of the choosy chimp. In fact, near the end, with Russell and Raffles off-screen, it becomes a fairly generic comedy not nearly involving as the hijinks of the first hour. The melodrama near the end doesn't work so well either. Overall, though, the film definitely makes the most of its comic premise and provides enough fun to be considered a success. The Barefoot Executive works as a spoof of the television industry or simply a funny family-friendly film in the mold of Disney's better comedies of the 1970s.

Joe Flynn (left) plays Francis X. Wilbanks, UBC's manager. In his big screen debut, John Ritter plays his whiny nephew Roger. Uh-oh, that monkey's in trouble!

There's another staple of the live action Disney film from this era (and even dating back to Walt's time): the theme song. The very catchy '70s-style anthem "He's Gonna Make It" appears over the opening credits, turns up a few times throughout the film in jazzy instrumental form, and returns full-force in the end. As far as I'm concerned, this is right up there with Hot Lead and Cold Feet's "May the Best Man Win" and you might have trouble getting out of your head. But "trouble" never felt so good.

Disney fans will recognize The Three Lives of Thomasina as one of the "television programs" on which Steve and Raffles disagree. The Shaggy Dog and Babes in Toyland also turn up among the programming. The show titles used are all parodies of real television shows from the early '70s.

In closing, The Barefoot Executive isn't a great deal different from the Dexter Riley films or other Disney comedies based on silly premises. There's animal cuteness in the way of the headlining monkey, inept bad guys, Kurt Russell, and even the obligatory police appearance. Watching the film thirty-four years later, one doesn't suspect the filmmakers expected such longevity, but it's still highly entertaining, far more so than many live action family movies of today.

I'd be one of the last people to write off modern cinema altogether and indeed one can find plenty of well-made entries into this class from Disney and others. But more often than not, the words "brash" and "sudsy" come to mind in describing recent films of this type. Barefoot Executive never approaches "brash" and almost entirely avoids "sudsy." It may not be the type of film bestowed with awards or much critical acclaim, but it remains a lot of fun, offers some positive values, and is pretty much free of questionable content. As it's only the rare film meeting those criteria today, this comedy merits a solid recommendation.

Buy The Barefoot Executive from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital Mono (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: April 12, 2005
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase


The Barefoot Executive is not in very good shape on DVD. The first problem is that the film is presented in a reformatted 1.33:1 "fullscreen" transfer. The lack of the original widescreen theatrical aspect ratio is indicative of a bigger problem:
the film itself has not been properly remastered. Instead, an old video master appears to have been used. It looks very poorly.

Picture quality remains soft and sorely lacking detail throughout the film. It yearns for the sharpness that even much older films have often delivered on DVD. The colors are inconsistent and often look unnatural. In its lesser moments, the video appears blurry and out-of-focus. Other results of the weak mastering source turn up in shimmering and moiré effect. There are some but not many digital artifacts showing up as well.

I noticed no framing problems in the course of the film. It's tough to tell what has been done to achieve the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but the film wouldn't have been shown in these dimensions theatrically in 1971. The transfer is probably open-matte from a mildly wider aspect ratio (Disney liked 1.75:1 back then). Minor cropping could have been employed, but I did not detect any of that, nor was there any apparent excess space.

The Main Menu John Ritter is on the chimp's trail.

The Barefoot Executive may not be the most picturesque film, but it's certainly entitled to a far better transfer than this.

Sound is provided in a Dolby Digital Mono track. It too is not coming from the original elements, but some kind of video master created a long time ago for less discerning ears. It's kind of lifeless, but still very serviceable. As with any Mono track, all of the audio comes from the center channel, and the mix of dialogue, mostly-present '70s score, and a few active sound effects is satisfactory and never difficult to distinguish.
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The biggest problem may be that the dialogue appears out-of-sync at times, and that's surely something that could be corrected by going back to the source rather than relying on this master. Fortunately, that doesn't occur too often. I'm not as quick to notice shortcomings of soundtracks as those of its visual counterpart, so for the most part, this audio presentation seemed unspectacular but not too bad.


As with the rest of April's catalogue debut DVDs, The Barefoot Executive arrives sans bonus features. There's the ubiquitous promo for other vintage live action Disney films on DVD, many of which are accompanied by some fun extras. But there's no Barefoot trailer or anything else to be found here but the movie.

The 16 x 9 menus are kind of neatly-designed. Each screen features a bank of televisions that feature a few characters or scenes from the film in the background, with another character in the foreground. Each menu is accompanied by a score selection, in fact the same selection, which is, of course, the funky '70s theme song in instrumental form.

Their relationship is kind of give-and-take, but Steve and Raffles are friends to the end. What a nutty family tree - a boy, a girl, a chimpanzee!


The Barefoot Executive is a very fun film. It shares its writer, director, two stars, and winning comedic spirit with the likable Dexter Riley films, and provides a similarly entertaining experience, with a charismatic chimp thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, its DVD is lacking, with a very disappointing transfer and no bonus features. As such, it's essentially a non-degrading VHS with chapter stops. While fans of Disney's '70s comedies are encouraged to check this movie out, the disc is difficult to recommend.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
The Million Dollar Duck (1971) | Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. (1966) | The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967)
The Dexter Riley Trilogy:
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) | Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972) | The Strongest Man in the World (1975)
Also Starring Kurt Russell: Miracle (2004) | Follow Me, Boys! (1966) | Sky High (2005)
'70s Comedies: Snowball Express (1972) | Hot Lead & Cold Feet (1978) | Bedknobs & Broomsticks (1971)
Monkey Business: Monkeys, Go Home! (1967) | The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964)
See Kurt Russell in the upcoming Disney film Sky High

Related Interview: Hank Jones, 8-Film Disney Veteran Actor

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Reviewed April 4, 2005.