(Or: Bad films we love)
The Best of Everything (1959) is one of those movies I go back to time after time for no reason I can intelligently explain except that I love it. The film was adapted from a bestselling novel by Rona Jaffe and was later turned into a daytime drama (soap opera) in 1970 with James Lipton, the creator and host of Inside the Actor’s Studio as its head writer. But the film is what we’re talking about here. It is a slick piece of Hollywood gloss produced by 20th Century Fox and directed by Jean Negulesco (1900-1993) at the time Hollywood’s go-to guy of “Women’s pictures”, who directed such films as: Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), A Certain Smile (1954), A Woman’s World (1954) and later The Pleasure Seekers (1964) which was really a remake of Three Coins in the Fountain. They went to the right guy for The Best of Everything is very much a woman’s picture and Negulesco directs it with such polish it could easily have come right out of the pages of Women’ Home Journal or Cosmopolitan magazine.
It is the story of three attractive and innocently sexy young women who go to Manhattan in search of romance, adventure and a career that will sustain them until they fall in love and get married. The tone of the story is set up at the start by a toast they propose in their apartment.
“Here’s to men. Bless their clean cut faces and dirty little minds.”
The career in this film is publishing. They all work as secretaries at Fabian Books, a conglomerate that publishes novels, How-to books and various magazines. And some of the things that take place behind those closed office doors and played for humor would qualify today as “sexual harassment” of the most tasteless kind. But never mind that. The pleasures of the film are multiple. First there is the title song written by Sammy Cahn (Lyrics) and Ken Newman (Music) and perfectly sung over the titles by Johnny Mathis. The visual montage of people going to work that accompanies it is a valentine to early morning Manhattan. That alone is worth the price of admission. In fact the film is so beautifully shot in rich color by Deluxe that the entire film could be viewed as a visual valentine to New York city, especially the East Side and Madison Avenue.
Then there are the three principals Caroline Bender (Hope Lange) young, serious and hopelessly in love with a wrong guy. Her best line in the film comes after she learns that the love of her life has married another. She says this to Mike Rice (Stephen Boyd 1931-1977) a co-worker at the company.
Oh Mike, please make love to me. Even if you don’t love me, please, please make love to me.”
They used that clip in every trailer of the film as a come on and to illustrate how bold and daring the film really was. The second roommate is April Morrison (Diane Baker). She’s young, naive and a little bit dopey. She’s due to learn a harsh lesson about men and love from a wealthy no account named Dexter Key (Robert Evans). But the most dramatic story revolves around Greg Adams (Suzy Parker) an aspiring actress who falls in love with a brilliant and smolderingly attractive stage director David Savage played by Hollywood’s smolderingly attractive Louis Jourdan. Suzy Parker at that time was Fashion’s highest paid model. She was said to be “the most photographed woman in the world”. Critics brought out their axes for her performance in this film but I never saw anything particularly bad about it. No, she wasn’t Katherine Hepburn or Bette Davis but she wasn’t awful either. I suspect that it was their way of getting even for her being just so damn beautiful. Who knows?
In a supporting role is Martha Hyer, a quite attractive woman who never got the guy in most of her films (See Some Came Running –1958 or House Boat –1958). She’s having the same problem here. And saving the best for last there’s the queen of them all Miss Joan Crawford (1905-1977) as Amanda Farrow, a tough, hard bitten and cynical editor who hates “You young college types who think you can come in here with your Bachelor’s degrees and take over the company.”. Her character is so bitter that she could serve as a cautionary tale all by herself. But she too has a secret. She’s having an affair with a married man.
“I waited for you all night.” She says to him on the phone. “What? You were home? But last night was ours. I will not be taken for granted. I only have one small corner in your life and I will not settle for less. Now you and your rabbit faced wife can both go to hell!”
She delivers that line of dialogue as only Joan Crawford could and that too is worth sitting through the film for.
The men in the film don’t count for much. Mike Rice (Boyd) is a rueful drunk who hangs around the edges of scenes. Louis Jourdan plays David Savage in his French/American mode. French for seduction, American for cruelty. And Robert Evans, later head of production for Paramount, was an actor who always projected a repulsive charm on screen. Here he is at his most charmingly repulsive.
All in all the film is great, soapy, glamorous fun that takes place in the real world which nevertheless comes up looking like Never-Never Land. It is the kind of film that Hollywood makes better than anyone else in the world. This is a movie that you can laugh at, laugh with and enjoy, all at the same time.
A film truly for which the phrase “Guilty pleasure” was coined.