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This 8-cylinder soap opera continues Jerry Wald's string of successes by finding another multi-character story of young women and modern morals as a follow-up to his mega-hit Peyton Place. As explained in an interesting commentary by the original book author Rona Jaffe, Wald inspired her to write a spicy exposé of what life is like for modern working girls. He then pounded it into a boxoffice-friendly and censor-safe Hollywood mold. What comes out is pretty entertaining nonetheless, with interesting actresses like Hope Lange and Diane Baker being run like spawning salmon through the typing pool of a Manhattan publishing company. Johnny Mathis sings a gushy title tune.
The Best of Everything may be a soap opera, but it sustains a high interest with its attempt to be honest about the new working girl of the late 1950s, when an awful lot of sexual freedom suddenly became acceptable - and somewhat desirable - in the urban centers. Nobody in this publishing house is separating the good girls from those that "do" - it's presumed that Hope Lange's Caroline has had some amorous experience, and Suzy Parker has certainly been around the block more than once. Only young Diane Baker's April is assigned appease-the-censor duties, like Yvette Mimieux in Where the Boys Are. Hollywood wouldn't let innocent young things just be seduced and abandoned; they had to go nuts in remorse and walk into traffic or leap from a moving car.
The girls get pinched, hit on, plied with liquor and lied to by a succession of heels; The Best of Everything does make it easy to distinguish the good men from the lice. Lecherous married man Fred Shalimar likes to pounce on women as if they were deer in hunting season. Fiancée Eddie puts in a casual call to let Caroline know he's married another girl for business reasons, and later makes a slimy proposition to keep her on the side. The verminous Dexter Key treats April like a disposable kleenex. Only the honest Eddie Rice behaves in a gentlemanly manner, and that's only after our heroine has thrown herself at him in a moment of alcoholic despair. And he still respects her the next day, even when he has to reassure her that nothing happened.
Author Jaffe originally included a wider range of women in her story. Martha Hyer's divorced mother is established in an unhappy relationship with yet another married staff member, but her subplot is dropped almost entirely; grief of a young mom was apparently insufficiently glamorous. The book had a fifth female character, but she was eliminated altogether from the movie.
Joan Crawford is aboard with an unusually subdued performance in a role given her as a favor by her old producer Jerry Wald. Her Amanda Farrow is presented as a class-A bitch and career roadblock to Caroline, but she also has a sad story to tell. She later intimates that she tried to go away to become the quiet wife of a dull businessman, but it didn't work out. Crawford fans will immediately find a parallel with Crawford's own story; she'd recently buried her Pepsi-executive husband - after spending him dry - and was practically crawling back to Hollywood hoping to get a career going again.
Caroline's progress is the story's main thread. She becomes a reader and then an editor in a matter of days by flagrantly misrepresenting herself as an editor and working with a writer "she believes in." The movie makes no comment about this bit of chicanery. Caroline spends the rest of her time running interference for the deluded April and wondering what happened to Gregg.(spoiler)
An actress on the side, the supposedly impervious Gregg goes nuts for Louis Jourdan's director. After his rejection she turns into a psycho, hanging around his apartment and going through his garbage in search of anything to make a connection with him. Gregg is essentially an update of the "Broadway Baby" from The Lullaby of Broadway musical number in The Golddiggers of 1935: She loves kittens, and takes an unplanned dive backwards from the top of a tall building.
As for April, the sanitized script makes her a unwed mother double-crossed on what was supposed to be her wedding day. The story then confects a revolting censor-proof resolution that a) punishes April for her sins with undeserved violence and injury; b) gets rid of the inconvenient fetus; and c) instantly finds April a Mr. Right in the form of a devoted young doctor who falls in love with her as she lies wrapped up in bandages like Miss Im-ho-tep, 1959.
Fox's Studio Classics DVD of The Best of Everything is a handsome enhanced CinemaScope transfer of this slick studio film. The design of the offices has an impressive early 60s look that invites comparison with the next year's The Apartment. An absorbing commentary alternates between author Rona Jaffe's personal reminiscences and info provided by historian Sylvia Stoddard. Stoddard's good attention to detail goes a bit too far into fashion minutiae for this male reviewer, but otherwise she offers a lot of interesting information - is the office design just Mondrian-like, or were people in 1959 referring to the style with that name? Jaffe's talk is fascinating. As can be expected, she had some enviable connections to producer Wald in terms of getting the job. But she explains in full how the book came about and how the movie diverged from it. Anecdotes contrasting her own publishing house experience - wasting time, lying about being qualified to take shorthand, etc. - are hilarious. She does a fine job of explaining what the morals of her co-workers were like without resorting to sleazy details, or getting out the whitewash.
The back of the package has a photo of Joan Crawford and what would seem to be author Rona Jaffe on the set. Crawford has her "3 O'Clock plastered but looking good" smile; we can presume that the stage temperature is down in the 60s so she can keep drinking vodka in a water glass (the Pepsi bottle is right there too) and not break out in perspiration. She's officially "posing with someone important" and stares over the camera while holding Rona's hand. For her part, Ms. Jaffe looks like she wants to be rescued, fast. One picture is worth a lot of words.
The extras also have a trailer (where Crawford's classic trashy line, "You and your rabbit-faced wife can both go to Hell!" is given a strong emphasis) and a newsreel blurb on the film's premiere.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Best of Everything rates: