the central protagonists, glossy, wide-eyed stabs at melodrama, an immeasurable aura of opulence put forward by the film’s big budget, its usage of the DeLuxe color photography process, and its never wanting to do anything besides fondle the faces and bodies and trials and tribulations of unfathomably beautiful people.
It follows a formula so popular throughout the Hollywood Golden Age: a trio of hopeful young women decide to pursue their dreams in a big city, only to find themselves traumatized and completely changed by their experiences. Stir together the formula too hastily and you get Valley of the Dolls – overstuffed, unconvincing, and overwrought. But do it right – with just enough intelligence, visual flair, and three-dimensional theatrics – and you get something as affecting as The Best of Everything.
Initially, the movie does not appear to be high art: it's a soap opera fashioned in the Douglas Sirk style minus the irony, intended to not be much more than an expensive Lindor truffle for “sophisticated” audiences to munch on between readings of the latest movie magazines and Hedda Hopper gossip columns. We see plenty of Academy baiting here, too: the jazzed dialogue, performances always smoked in emotions on the verge, elegant set and costume design, and prominent placement of a Johnny Mathis ballad over the pink cursive-adorned opening credits, are among the most obvious characteristics. It should all ring false.
Yet in the 58 years since its release, The Best of Everything, like the best works of the aforementioned Sirk, decidedly hits harder than it might have upon release. In the face of the ripple effect of the Weinstein scandal, of the increasingly loosening gender roles in America, and of the rapid changes seen in the publishing industry on which the movie puts a spotlight, it is at once a fascinating product of its time and a generally forward-thinking artifact that hints at the societal and cultural changes to come in the following decades.
At face value, The Best of Everything is all chilled champagne and red-hot kisses, cutting lines and bitch slaps, prettied-up tears and heartbreak. But lurking underneath the material stimulations is a perceptive, witty commentary exaggeratedly regarding what it’s like to be a woman trying to succeed in a male-dominated, misogynistic working world. Subtle, no. But engaging and thought-provoking, certainly.
The movie follows three 20-somethings trying to make it in the Big Apple. At the center is Caroline (Hope Lange), an all-American blonde who, as the film opens, gets a secretary gig at a prestigious, Manhattan-based publishing firm. She dreams of someday getting an editorial position. On the sidelines are other secretaries at the company, the naive April (Diane Baker) and the bright-eyed Gregg (Suzy Parker), with whom Caroline soon rooms.
April hopes to one day marry, have children, and become a homemaker; Gregg, an aspiring actress, wants nothing more than to become the toast of the town. Constantly nipping at their aspirations are their bosses, the vicious but lovesick editor Amanda (Crawford) and the incessantly skirt chasing editor-in-chief Fred (Brian Aherne), and love lives that never exactly turn out to be beneficial in the long run.
For most of its 123 minutes, The Best of Everything does exactly what we expect it to. As anticipated, for instance, the romances experienced by these women are often given more extensive focus than their relationships with one another and their occupational ideals. Comparatively, the movie provides them with set "roles": Caroline is the shrewd wild card, April is the square who gets in over her head, and Gregg is the victim who will be destroyed by the disconnect between her ambitions and the cutthroat nature of the entertainment industry. Nothing about the film seems revolutionary.
But notice how screenwriters Edith Sommer and Mann Rubin sneak in little nuances that characterize these women as more than cutouts who look good on a movie poster. How they cynically recognize that what’s being displayed is merely the continuation a cycle, and that even the most hurtful of rejections and the most thrilling of promotions will not actually matter: Everyone, as it turns out, is replaceable. How they unflinchingly display the hardships which can befall sex and the single girl, and how tragic it is that the protagonists often put their romantic feelings above their myriad intellectual capabilities. How they paint the real world as best they can in the scope of a lavish studio film and end up representing just how much America was changing by the end of the '50s.
Sometimes it falters. Like 1942’s Woman of the Year, which initially appeared to be ahead of its time but then betrayed us, it suggests even the most independent of women are really just working to keep themselves busy until the right man comes along. Those who cannot conform – like Gregg, for example – are doomed. And in regards to April, who falls pregnant but is pressured to get an abortion by her bad-news boyfriend, the movie doesn’t preach autonomy. It judges her for getting knocked up in the first place, and too coincidentally has her deciding to jump out of a moving vehicle to neatly get rid of the child she wants but is, nonetheless, illegitimate in the eyes of '50s America.
But The Best of Everything gets so many things right, its dalliances with datedness don’t much deter its impact. Aside from being relevant to an entirely new generation by clapping as women reject older, lecherous men attempting to make the sleeping-her-way-up-to-the-top phenomenon a thing, it also is effective in capturing multifaceted women who vary in their comfortability with themselves and with their neuroses. Caroline is so compelling because there is an unspoken priority given to her professional life above her personal one – unusual for the time – and Gregg, played by a screen personality who just so happened to be the most famous model in the world at the end of the decade, does away with the notion that being an unusually attractive woman can get you anything you want.
But the most fascinating character in The Best of Everything is Crawford’s Amanda, who is an encapsulation of all the great parts the actress had undergone up until that point. Though Crawford took on the role simply because she was both recently widowed and almost bankrupt, she dazzles as an older woman who is unapologetic in her sexual desires and her occupational interests. Throughout the film, she struggles with conflicted feelings about an affair with a married man all the while maintaining a heavy vocational load that she controls ferociously.
What I like most about the character, though, is that she ultimately refuses to uphold the societal expectations she’s actively ignored for decades. She's a woman in her mid-50s, and as such the population might otherwise throw dirty looks her way for not being married or for not being an aging hausfrau. But the movie makes it clear that her self-sufficiency and disregard for how others perceive her is something to aspire to. That makes Amanda Farrow one of Crawford’s most intriguing parts.
Since the ending of The Best of Everything is slightly tragic in nature, we do feel slightly ripped off as the closing credits start rolling: we get to know and root for these multidimensional female characters, and yet the film nevertheless saddles them with fates they arguably do not deserve. But otherwise the feature is a beaut – a lustrous melodrama leaner than Peyton Place (1957), smarter than Valley of the Dolls. It’s an underrated, complex delicacy. A-
2 Hrs., 3 Mins.
The Best of Everything January 2, 2018
ean Negulesco’s The Best of Everything (1959) is basically Valley of the Dolls (1967), except the setting of Hollywoodland is traded for the rat race of corporate New York City, the main characters are aiming for business promotions rather than Oscars, the has-been lurking about the premises is Joan Crawford instead of Susan Hayward, and the movie, by all means, is good, great even.
Remaining the same, though, is a weakness for shitty men on the part of