On her first day in New York City, Caroline Bender (Hope Lange) strides into a New York publishing office, clutching a piece of newspaper in her hand -- an ad for a secretarial position, boasting that respondents can look forward to "The Best of Everything!" Within less than ten minutes, she's been hired, spending her first day under the iron fist of ruthless editor Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford). She makes it through, with the support of slightly ditzy April Morrison (Diane Baker) and wry aspiring actress Gregg Adams (Suzy Parker), who not only become her close friends but also her roommates. The job doesn't pay much, and she doesn't have her own closet, but she's satisfied for now. After all, she's looking forward to a long and happy life with her beau Eddie Harris (Brett Halsey), who's gone away on a boat trip but will be back soon. Despite Ms. Farrow's icy demeanor, Caroline is sure the newspaper ad knows what it's talking about -- she can have the best of everything, and so can her friends.
The Best of Everything feels kind of like a film that is at odds with itself. Can its protagonists have the best of everything? Surely, screenwriters Edith Sommer and Mann Rubin, working from a novel by Rona Jaffe, believe that their characters should aspire to have everything. When the three women, two single and one currently without her lover, sit in their tiny apartment and toast "men...bless their clean-cut faces and their dirty little minds!", it comes off as bold and assertive, as if the movie is speaking to the audience of 1959 about the sexual independence of not just these three women, but young working women everywhere. In that moment, the film bursts with a fresh and contemporary energy, the beginning of a battle to reclaim territory that, tragically, still has to be fought for even today. All three women are also in charge of their careers, looking to move on up in the professions they've dreamed about.
On the other hand, the film is a melodrama, one that is at times so stark and cruel that one has a hard time believing those same screenwriters aren't going out of their way to punish their poor heroines. Make no mistake: there needs to be some conflict in the movie, and the film has already established itself as a story about their work and home lives, so it's no surprise that's where their struggles lie. Yet, the first twenty or thirty minutes of Everything focus so strongly on not just the bond between these three women, as a group or split off into various pairs, but celebrating it. When the script begins to turn up the darkness, it also doubles down in that the women become far more separated, their friendship relegated to the background. Alice gets caught up in a cruel and manipulative relationship with Dexter Key (future mega-producer Robert Evans), and she suffers at rock bottom (in another arguably contemporary bit of business) mostly in silence, by herself. Afterward, the spotlight swivels over to Caroline instead of giving us a sense of Caroline and Alice supporting one another through tough times.
Gregg is even further abandoned. She's Ms. Farrow's regular assistant, and her spunky attitude makes her the most carefree of the trio, which is the right demeanor to deal with her. Farrow's poison-tipped remarks slide right off, because Gregg is more focused on her acting dream. Surprisingly, Ms. Farrow is well aware of those very aspirations, and despite her ruthlessness, she orchestrates a meeting between Gregg and theater director David Savage (Louis Jourdan), who hit it off. Gregg falls hard for David, but David's love is fleeting and cruel. As their relationship dissolves, Gregg practically goes insane, and it's hard to shake a sense of giddiness or relish in the way the filmmakers take such a happy character and tearing her down. How else to explain director Jean Negulesco's wild Dutch angles of Parker's wide-eyed terror as she snoops around David's apartment building, or even inside her own empty home. Again, almost by design, her storyline keeps her separated from her two friends, and builds to a truly outrageous conclusion that is both predictable and tonally jarring.
Lange anchors the movie, both with the most realistic, relatable character, but also with the most compelling story, one that again has plenty of current-day significance. Her rise through the ranks at the publishing company is aided by the fairly despicable Fred Shalimar (Brian Aherne), an executive who seems to think his penchant for groping and ogling his employees is cute. Lange navigates the scenes with a "one-eye-open" attitude that speaks to Caroline's lack of naivete, and again, feels contemporary in its acknowledgement of the kind of sexual harassment women often face in the workplace. The rest of the time, she also engages in a sharp battle of ideologies with Farrow, in scenes which crystallize how her ruthlessness stems from a self-assessment as brutal as the ones she writes on manuscripts. Romantically, Caroline's eye drifts toward Mike Rice (Stephen Boyd), another executive at the publishing company, after her relationship with Eddie becomes complicated. In one of the movie's last scenes, Eddie suggests Caroline agree to something so obliviously cruel that one almost forgets how utterly believable his mindset is. At times The Best of Everything seems set on torturing its characters, it has one thing straight -- the best of everything has always been different for women than it is for men.
It's no surprise that Twilight Time didn't consider the poster artwork for The Best of Everything, one of which actually has blocks of text summarizing every couple and none of which have a particularly concise image, but the photo they've chosen of Hope Lange can't quite figure out how to properly reformat the opening scene of Caroline walking up to the building in one frame, so it ends up looking kind of generic. The art otherwise follows Twilight Time's usual template and the single-disc release is packed into a transparent Blu-ray Viva Elite case (with no foil logo stamp), and the usual booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo is included.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.35:1 1080p AVC, The Best of Everything is approximately on par with 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray editions of other CinemaScope movies I've seen, namely How to Marry a Millionaire. Optical transitions and the opening credits look soft, but when the film is going properly, this is a fairly clean, colorful, and nicely detailed presentation. The only caveat is that, much like Millionaire, there does seem to be at least a minor lean toward the modern "teal and orange" color timing that so many Blu-ray transfers are unfortunately plagued by. It's not particularly intrusive -- Hope Lange's skin has the expected level of pink -- yet, shadows give off a faint blue hue, and people with darker skin look a touch orange. Overall, the presentation is a win, but it's a shame that the studios (the fault here lies on 20th Century Fox, not Twilight Time) continue to allow this kind of mild revisionism.
Twilight Time is usually good about presenting films in their original mix, which makes it a tad curious that the only option on this disc is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. I admit I'm not nearly as knowledgeable about sound as I am about picture, especially in terms of converting the film's original 4-track stereo to a 5.1 surround sound mix, but the effect is far from perfect, with some dialogue placed very low in the mix -- I had to crank my volume more than once to hear what was being said. Thankfully, not only are music and effects presented very cleanly, and most of the dialogue is audible, there are English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing to help with any issues with the mix.
20th Century Fox released The Best of Everything on DVD as part of their Studio Classics line. It included an audio commentary, by author Rona Jaffe and film historian Sylvia Stoddard, as well as a Fox Movietone Newsreel. Both of these extras have been licensed and included here, along with Twilight Time's customary isolated score track, in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. An original theatrical trailer is also included.
The Best of Everything's almost operatic darkness can seem kind of silly, but at the very least, Hope Lange's performance is wonderful, and it's a fascinating movie from a social and political standpoint. Twilight Time's Blu-ray features a strong (if slightly inaccurate) transfer and all of the extras from 20th Century Fox's earlier DVD release. Recommended.
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