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Hope Lange in 1959's "The Best of Everything."

The Best of Everything May 15, 2023


Jean Negulesco



Hope Lange
Stephen Boyd
Suzy Parker
Martha Hyer
Diane Baker
Brian Aherne
Robert Evans
Louis Jourdan
Joan Crawford







2 Hrs., 1 Min.


efore starting work on her 1958 bestseller The Best of Everything, 20-something-year-old writer Rona Jaffe interviewed around 50 young women to talk about the difficulties of their lives they felt they couldn’t really discuss out in the open, from abortions procured to workplace sexual harassment endured. Jaffe used what she was told and combined those testimonials with what she knew from her current job,

as an associate editor at Fawcett Publications, to tell the stories of a group of very different women brought together by their work as publishing-house secretaries.


I haven’t yet read Jaffe’s book. But its quick-to-come movie adaptation, released in 1959 and directed by Jean Negulesco with clean stylishness, reveals material astonishingly progressive in one moment and in the next guilty of uncritically perpetuating forms of sexism exempt from that progressivism — unsurprising for a studio-backed melodrama doubling as a hoped-for springboard for the careers of up-and-coming young actresses. But where The Best of Everything falls short is for the most part allayed by the fact that it’s taking so seriously the experiences of young women trying to navigate a world resolute about not allowing them too much power or agency, and by the fact that it so thoroughly lets you know it finds patriarchal dominance a travesty. 

The Best of Everything follows three young women who meet through their jobs in the typing pool of a publishing firm and become roommates. Most of the film’s attention goes to Caroline (Hope Lange), who has the best head on her shoulders and is the most serious, among the trio, about working her way up the professional ladder. Her literary ambitions are strong: though merely a secretary, she, in what turns out to be a wise move, audaciously leaves comments on a promising manuscript just a few days on the job. But she’s also walking wounded because of her fiancé’s recent jilting of her for another woman, and suggestions from the firm’s editor-in-chief, Mr. Shalimar (a perfectly slimy Brian Aherne), that she’ll have to put up with his sexual advances if she wants to get anywhere higher. 

There’s also April (Diane Baker), a naif from nowheresville Colorado here just because she needs a job. She says silly things that betray her innocence, like how she’s in love even though she hasn’t met the guy yet and how she yearns to be sophisticated so much that it doesn’t matter if being sophisticated winds up killing her. That naïvete, that famine for worldliness, will be taken advantage of in the course of the movie: by Shalimar, who wonders aloud how boys her age “make love” these days after he invites her for a drink in his office after hours; by Dexter (Robert Evans), a loathsome playboy who exploits April’s eagerness for love to use her, callously, as a hook-up. (April is cajoled into bed under misleading pretenses.) 

And there’s Gregg (Suzy Parker), who has this job mostly so that she can support herself while trying to make it as a stage actress. (She tends to call in sick whenever she has an audition she needs to go to.) But she misguidedly gets involved with a director (Louis Jordan) who uses and loses actresses like sexual flavors of the month. It proves ruinous not just to her burgeoning career but to mental health already taking regular beatings from near-constant rejections from roles. 

These subplots are mostly effective. But they lack a real dramatic charge. Edith Sommer and Mann Rubin, who wrote the screenplay, look at their characters mostly from the vantage of what will happen to them above who they are in the moment. So they can feel like preemptive cautionary tales before we’ve really gotten to know these women as people. The most finely wrought narrative of the three is by far the Caroline subplot. The writers don’t look at her with near-condescending pity, like the other female leads; there’s more of a shared disappointment that her intelligence and talents are susceptible to quashing by men who have professional and personal power over her. 

Men, plus the one woman editor at the publishing firm. The Best of Everything thrums with life the most when she’s around. That’s no surprise, given that the character, Amanda Farrow, is played by the always-excellent, always-commanding Joan Crawford. Compelling as she is to watch as played by Crawford, though, Amanda also represents where the movie can get most frustrating. She makes life a living hell for her younger women underlings — casually demanding they work overtime, being curt about failed tasks for which she hadn’t given enough instruction — and in general seems miserable. She’s the living embodiment of what, in traditional 1950s terms, happens to a woman if she foregoes domesticity for professional success. That Caroline, from her first day onward, consistently pushes back against Amanda’s egregious demands, and at other times finds ways to stand up for herself without sliding into insubordination, makes her even more of a possible threat.

The Best of Everything allots Crawford less than 10 minutes of screen time. It doesn’t explore her character much more beyond that, though there is a last-minute twist where she quits her job to pursue a rash marriage proposal. What strikes us is how much richer she, and by extension the movie, might have been had the film broadened its gaze. We wonder what Amanda’s own experiences working her way up the ladder looked like. Is her treatment of the firm’s secretaries a toxic form of protectiveness? Or is it more likely the manifestation of an overcompensatory fear of her being ousted by the next generation of “the one woman editor” — a conflation of cruelty with control? Amanda, however, isn’t rendered as much more than an object of disdain, as a living dissuasion for these young women: pursue the life of a housewife, otherwise you’ll end up like her. Crawford’s performance is so good because she imbues the part with what isn’t there. The film doesn’t explore it, but her work betrays an insurmountable inner pain she makes us want more investigation of.

The Best of Everything outwardly seems to concur with the idea of domesticity as preferable to a career for a woman. But what meets the eye isn’t consonant with what other movies of the era were doing. There’s its acute awareness of how cruel mid-century society could be to women who aspire to something higher, for one thing: more vulnerable than men to being forced into an inappropriate power dynamic to get someplace better; likelier, if they’ve achieved that success, to being seen as cold and unappealing — a woman who willingly gave up her romantic viability because she’s picked professional fulfillment. Settling down isn’t looked at like an oasis away from all that. The movie implicitly seems to understand that domesticity for a woman turning into an inexorability rather than an option — and a tragedy if it’s never experienced — has the tenor of widespread tragedy. The Best of Everything rumbles with fury at patriarchy’s omniscient, destructive touch. B+

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