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Best of Everything, The (Blu-ray Review)

17 Aug, 2015 By: Mike Clark

Available via SreenArchives.com
Twilight Time
$29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Hope Lange, Stephen Boyd, Suzy Parker, Joan Crawford.

There’s a trade paperback somewhere around my house of Rona Jaffe’s source 1958 best-seller, and I keep meaning to give it a shot as a break-time reading alternative to the Richard Nixon bios that keep ruling my world. This is because The Best of Everything is a novel that’s still talked about today, due to its time-capsule portrayal of fresh-faced young women (Radcliffe grads and below) trying to cut it in New York at a publishing house that looks a little less elegant once they’re stuck in the typing pool.

Thus, it’s impossible to watch director Jean Negulesco’s hit screen version of it (with the unmistakable producer’s stamp of the great Jerry Wald) without thinking of “Mad Men.” Released during that five-minute period when it was thought that the picture’s nominal male lead Stephen Boyd was going to be big (Ben-Hur would open a month later), Everything predates the much later AMC series in terms of its time frame but not by much — and not at all in its “get me some coffee” attitudes (though in this case the coffee order is barked by another woman, who’s in a position of relative power under the glass ceiling).

Though 20th Century-Fox had a lot of young acting talent at its disposal in those days, the women tended to be more interesting than the men, and the poor femmes here have to make do with the likes of Boyd, Robert Evans, Brett Halsey and Ted Otis (at least Suzy Parker gets stuck with a tomcatting stage director played by Louis Jourdan, a garden-variety heel who at least brandishes a little style). By the late 1950s, movies could be frank — but not too frank — about sex before marriage. In fact, here was Jaffe herself appearing on a televised episode of Hugh Hefner’s syndicated “Playboy’s Penthouse” just as the movie was going into wider release, a guest sitting alongside Lenny Bruce, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. (The show is available on DVD, by the way, in a Hefner box set — speaking of time capsules).

Everything’s three central hopefuls break down into aspiring actress Parker (always late to work thanks to auditions); Colorado-bred Diane Baker (greener than those tinted magazine ads that, earlier in the decade, touted the miracle virtues of chlorophyll); and Hope Lange (the one from Radcliffe and looking at the gig as a temporary before-marriage job, even though we can see right off that she’s the one who might have staying power). Lange doesn’t have to carry the entire movie, but she’s front and center for a lot of it and anchors things more than adequately. In addition to oozing classy dignity (she’s kind of an “anti-tattoo” poster child), she wears the Oscar-nominated costumes duds with quiet style, and there’s one brown number here where I did see a little bit of God when she was wearing it.

And yet. If you want to see real star power, check out Joan Crawford as the editor/tyrant who’s trying to come to terms with a lonely life — and all too well aware that her underlings would like seeing her hit by a bus for several reasons, only one of which is staling her job. In real life, Crawford had recently been widowed by a Pepsi-Cola VP who had watched her become a spokesperson for the product — prompting Bob Hope, on an Oscarcast, to note that he’d like to stop around after the show and drop off some empties to what I read at the time as a reaction of smiling chagrin. She had to get back to work but was at the same career point Rosalind Russell had been a couple years earlier at the time of Picnic — agreeing to take lower billing but with a more prestigious “And” credit that somehow looked better. Crawford doesn’t have all that much screen time if you stopwatch it, but she’s a dominant presence and maybe even the dominant presence here.

The other standout performance is by fellow veteran Brian Aherne as an old lech of an editor whose inveterate fanny-pinching would get him a nasty letter on Gloria Allred stationary were he indulging himself today. The kind of boss who always says, “I fought for you upstairs” (without to much to show for it), he has a wife that no one ever sees stashed away on Long Island or some other far-away enclave, making it all the easier to turn him into the ’50s screen answer to pre-Code Warren William. Whenever Aherne and Crawford are on screen, the material is elevated, but at 121 minutes, the studio likely had to cap the running time, and the Lange-Parker-Baker subplots start tripping over each other, as was the case with literary adaptations of all stripes during the decade.

But you can’t say that Fox didn’t gloss the picture up with highly professional paint. Though it isn’t as good a movie as the studio’s An Affair to Remember two years earlier, it’s a product of the same sensibility, down to Wald’s participation, the Manhattan-backdropped opening credits and a hit title tune by a Columbia recording artist (Johnny Mathis here, Vic Damone with Remember). Unlike Andrew Sarris, I’m at least a little predisposed toward at least the first of the later-career movies Negulesco directed after the advent of CinemaScope modified his style: How To Marry a Millionaire, Three Coins in the Fountain, Woman’s World, Daddy Long Legs (only the first of these has gotten a Blu-ray release in this country, though there’s a lovely All-Region import on Daddy). After that quartet, however, they become guilty amusements or less, and I do think Negulseco’s best work came earlier. I’m very find of Deep Valley, but my real pet is Take Care of My Little Girl, a Martin Scorsese favorite that has never gotten an official home release of any kind, even though it’s in brilliant Technicolor.

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