|Directed by||Jean Negulesco|
The Best of Everything is a 1959 romantic drama film released by 20th Century-Fox, and starring Hope Lange, Diane Baker, Suzy Parker, Stephen Boyd, Louis Jourdan, Robert Evans, and Joan Crawford. The movie relates the professional careers and private lives of three women who share a small apartment in New York City and work together in a paperback publishing firm.
They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. The 1959 adaptation of the bestselling novel The Best of Everything makes its official Blu-ray debut, remaining as beautiful and as powerful as ever in its take on limitless dreams and big city life.
The Best of Everything centers on three girls: Caroline (Hope Lange), April (Diane Baker), and Gregg (Suzy Parker), three friends who work in the secretarial pool at at top New York publishing house alongside a number of interesting characters. There’s the handsome magazine editor Mike Rice (Stephen Boyd), the wolfish top executive Mr. Shalimar (Brian Aherne), and the witchy senior editor Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford). Throughout the course of the film we bear witness to all the upswings and downfalls that happen to this complex assortment of men and women.
This film is the epitome of the type of ’50s melodrama that studios were churning out by the truckload. In fact, you can spot many of the film’s dramatic turns coming before the film’s lush score starts up again. There’s plenty of heartache and triumph to go around, and no character is spared his or turn at a couple of sudsy moments. Yet there’s a real truth to the dramatics in The Best of Everything. Topics such as sexual harassment, alcoholism, abortion, and mental instability are dealt with in ways which were decidedly frank and honest for a ’50s flick. At a time when the more ugly aspects of life were simply swept under the rug or only hinted at by Hollywood, the film’s bravery at refusing to flinch when its characters must deal with real life earns it a credibility absent from most films of the decade.
On a deeper level, The Best of Everything is a look at that time in a young woman’s life when she actually had to choose a life for herself and decide who she is and what she wants. In an era when women either went to work or had a family, but seldom both, we see Caroline, April, and Gregg struggle with not only trying to decide which they wanted, but why they wanted it, how to get it, and finally try to make peace with their individual outcomes.
It’s through this notion that the film’s title becomes incredibly clear. The best of everything represents each girl’s carefully constructed image of her future. Whether it be in the home or in the big city, to each one, their idealized vision of life is truly the best that the world has to offer. It’s there. They know it’s there and they will do whatever it takes to make it theirs.
It helps greatly that The Best of Everything is such a well-constructed film on virtually every level.
Unlike most ensemble films, this movie weaves in and out of its stories seamlessly, unforced and with enough time for each character to feel like real people who genuinely change throughout the course of the movie. Meanwhile, the beauty of the cinematography featuring a gorgeous New York and the music serves to undercut the harshness of some of the plot points without making them any less valid. In short, this is melodrama stained with beautiful grime.
The Best of Everything has received one of the most impressive transfers of any ’50s movie I’ve seen in ages. The sharpness, sound, and color throughout are all simply flawless.
Aside from a trailer and vintage premiere footage, there’s an interesting commentary track from Rona Jaffe, the author of the original novel, who is quick to point out the film’s surprising attention to detail regarding the depiction of the secretary’s world that it almost gives The Best of Everything a documentary-like edge.
The Bottom Line
Though it may be considered a pre-cursor to Valley of the Dolls, The Best of Everything features plenty of heft and pathos to legitimately stand on its own. This is an excellent piece of ’50s filmmaking which beautifully shows the eternal quest to finding the kind of life which so many believe guarantees nothing but happiness.
I feel very strongly that this film was just like Waiting to Exhale with white females in the 1950’s. As in Waiting to Exhale, all of the female characters got mixed up with men who were either married or no good. The only difference, besides the obvious, was that there wasn’t much humor in this film. I would even say that it was tragic. Only one of the male characters seemed to be kind and sincere (Hope Lange’s guy), but even then there was conflict in this relationship.
The story was about three young women who shared an apartment together and who had hopes and dreams of success. Unfortunately for them, romance didn’t seem to come easy although they were young, intelligent and attractive. This movie could be called a tearjerker with the saddest part involving Suzy Parker’s character whose obsession of an ex-boyfriend leads to tragedy.
A Hedonistic, Though Flawed, Delight
Author: (email@example.com) from Oak Brook, IL
10 June 2003
I am still trying to figure out why I like this film (and so many like it), when in truth, the submissiveness of females and their dependence on the love of a man really sickens me. The depiction of women in this film is perhaps a bit more progressive than that in other films of this genre, as the women are, at least, career women, and much of the story is set in the office. However, among the three key friends (Hope Lange, Suzy Parker, and Diane Baker), Lange’s character Caroline Bender is the only one determined to be an editor. However, at the same time, when her colleague Mike Rice (Stephen Boyd) asks her if she has any ambitions beyond working a year or so, she quite adamantly says “no..none at all”…so, it’s a bit contradictory, and frustrating. And he, of course, says it’s “wonderful” when she agrees with him that it would be quite satisfying for her to “get her feet wet in publishing for a year or two to prove what she has “to prove”, marry a doctor or lawyer, and have babies”.
Some of the dialog is beyond hope, but I inexplicably continue to watch this film, every so often. Maybe it’s the women’s clothing…I love suits, and I miss dressing up for work. (Business casual has been one of several downfalls of today’s workplace, as far as I’m concerned. Even though I’m a die-hard liberal, I definitely appreciate and enjoy conservative dress). No, but really…perhaps it is because I want to see if at least one of these women wakes up and takes stock in her own life, and throws back all of the crap that her “sweetheart” dishes out at her. Hope Lange does so to a degree when she rhetorically asks her slime-bucket hometown beau Eddie “what is it about men that they think they deserve the most refined, cultured, “respectable” women from the “best schools and the best families” only “part-time”, for only fun, but ignore all of the attendant responsibilities that would turn frolic into long-term, serious relationships. She then goes on to say that a number of women will play the same game as men, for a while, but eventually, they’ll have to pick up a few extra men of their own, to fill in the time when they’re not with the one they really want. I guess she’s talking about today’s “casual dating” and “hooking up”. Having spent some time lately with various dating services, I’ve run into more slime-buckets during the past year than I have in my entire life. Again, even though politically I’m quite liberal, my own social mores lean far more to those of a “Rules Girl”. So, this piece of dialog resonated with me at this time in my life.
The opening credits are very nice…Manhattan in the spring/summertime is always glorious. Though I need to laugh that it’s Johnny Mathis singing the title song, “The Best of Everything” (I’ve always thought that he was a very funny singer…he often breaks what should be long-held notes with silence…perhaps he’s breathing, but we don’t hear him inhale), it’s also perfect….who else would be singing this song for a 1950’s movie about finding your way in life and in love.
Joan Crawford’s boss is in many ways no different from some of the tyrannical maniacs I’ve worked for today, no joke. Joan Crawford’s Amanda Farrow was more or less a direct, no holds barred, right-in-your face bitch, telling Hope Lange that she does not have what it takes to become a Reader, much less an Editor. And, she did it in front of the rest of the typing pool (how unprofessional is that?). In the 80’s, people stabbed you in the back. In the 90’s, and to a degree, now, people smile at you directly, and let you believe all is well, until you’re laid off in one surprising second.
I found it inconsistent how the Suzy Parker character started out as an independent, career-minded, aspiring actress, who prided herself on never having needed a man (“to love, and to let go…that’s me”), but ended up becoming the most debilitated by the rejection of a man with whom she had fallen in love. And of course, it’s also amazing how Diane Baker, fresh from being thrown out of a speeding car and losing a baby (out of wedlock, no less, in the 1950’s!) manages to attract the attention and heart of a young, studly doctor when she’s still wearing bandages and no make-up in her hospital bed. Wonders never cease in a 1950’s melodrama!
If you hedonistically enjoy “Valley of the Dolls”, or “Written on the Wind”, you’ll love “The Best of Everything”.