Thursday, January 12, 2012

the best of everything

Perhaps working in publishing in New York City myself, The Best of Everything--the 1959 film version of the Rona Jaffe's bestseller--had a particular appeal.  It's not a perfect film by no means and the tragic moments are handled a bit awkwardly (as they often were in films of the fifties) but it has a deeper texture than most movie soaps of its time.  The title, taken from a Times classified ad for secretarial work, is clearly ironic; the multiple storylines are driven by strong, unique women.

Hope Lange plays ambitious Radcliffe grad Caroline Bender who works for a publishing company and its caustic editor Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford).  Bender slowly works her way to the top and befriends and rooms with two workmates April (Diane Baker) and Gregg (a glammed-down but still utterly stunning Suzy Parker).  The three of them experience sexual harassment and victimization from men in one way or another.

Sometimes the drama feels slack, underwritten (the adaptation is overly streamlined), especially concerning April and Gregg's predicaments, but Jean Negulesco's glossy melodrama is such a beautiful thing to behold.  The elegant main titles sequence sets the mood and supple fifties atmosphere of the film, showing the sweep of the city in Cinemascope.  Johnny Mathis provides a gorgeous vocal on the title song. It may look gilded but it's grounded by Jaffe's source material, which offers a portrait of what it was like in this environment in this particular time.  Since the cable TV success of "Mad Men," the office antics and mid-century set decoration have become familiar to a new generation.  But this refreshingly offers a woman's perspective, not Don Draper's, and Lange plays her part exquisitely (two years after her knockout performance in Peyton Placeand emotionally and movingly conveys a sense of ambivalence for her success.  ***

-Jeffery Berg

Check out B.e.l.t. for a comprehensive historical perspective on the film's set design.


  1. I've had my fair share of experiences working for the "Amanda Farrow" types (if only I was as well dressed as Caroline Bender when I was being yelled at). I LOVED the costumes in this film - and it did get a nomination that year for Best Costume Design at the Academy Awards. Great post!

    1. yes, amazing costumes! and i loved the set design.