Label: Twilight Time
Released: July 14, 2015
Synopsis: Nicking the glass corporate ceiling, Caroline Baker works her way up from the typing pool to a prominent editor at a big-time publishing house.
Special Features: Audio commentary with author Rona Jaffe and film historian Sylvia Stoddard / Isolated stereo score track / Fox Movietone Newsreel / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.
After earning an Oscar Nomination for her starring role in Peyton Place (1957) and getting important supporting roles in The Young Lions (1958) and In Love and War (1958), Hope Lange was given the plum part of Caroline Baker, the suburban girl who travels to the Big Apple after earning a business degree, and slowly rises to the upper echelons of Derby Books from typist to book editor.
Rona Jaffe based her novel on her own experiences in which she quickly realized the career options for women, even university graduates, were pretty awful in the fifties: as she recounts to Sylvia Stoddard in the disc’s commentary track (ported over from Fox’s 2005 DVD), one could remain in the typing pool and try to work the system and create a few small cracks in the corporate glass ceiling, or stay put and wait until freedom came in the form of marriage, followed by life at home with a burgeoning family.
Even in its distilled cinematic form and reworked to director Jean Negulesco’s peculiar and oft-used fetishistic story template of three women juggling love in some exotic big city, The Best of Everything still holds its own in story, style, and as a time capsule of an era where the piggishness of men was simply tolerated instead of nipped in the bud; at least in Jaffe’s snapshot of corporate fifties America, one could be an elder executive and a drunk and an ass-pincher and never worry about being canned, let alone disciplined.
The various characters are introduced upon Caorline’s arrival and quick hiring as a typist, especially her decision to move in with fellow typists Gregg Adams (Suzy Parker), a struggling actress; and April Morrison (Diane Baker), a country girl with a good heart but not-so-great optics for men.
Actually, all of the film’s men are affected by varying levels of sleaze, and none really suffer or receive punishment for their terrible behaviour. Caroline does ascend the small corporate ladder on her floor, Gregg earns a role in a play, and April seems content and stoic about almost everything, but boy are the men in Jaffe’s tale stinkers: Caroline’s fiancée Eddie (Brett Halsey) marries a oil tycoon’s daughter, sending Caroline into the arms of teen magazine editor (!) / drunkard Mike Rice (Stephen Boyd); Gregg falls for her director, David Savage (Louis Jourdan), a self-confessed womanizer; and April is wooed by a playboy named Dexter (Robert Evans) and becomes pregnant.
Caroline’s boss Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford) is a martinet who soon bails on her solid career for an old flame who’s long past his due date; Fred Shalimar (Brian Aherne), the ass-pincher, tries to get April drunk, and at a wedding send-off he assaults single parent Barbara Lamont (Martha Hyer) because she’s become even more stigmatized for having an affair with married colleague Sidney Carter (Canada’s Don Harron!), a decent guy who will not break up his marriage for reasons not quite detailed due to material excised from the final release version to appease censors.
All this melodrama occurs over a very slick corporate backdrop that includes a company retreat with open bar (!), relay games, a limbo stick contest, and covert meetings between couples. Most of the film takes place in the publishing house, which is headquartered in a sleek modern tower – the stunning Seagram Building, newly designed by the great Mies van der Rohe.
Visually, Everything is a sumptuous production – Lange looks ravishing in elegant yet never ostentatious clothes and colours – but special care went into framing the Derby building as giant monument to progress (if not a giant symbol of phallic egotism). There’s plenty of visual contrast between the everyday NYC streets of diners, busy roads, neon signs, and masses of wandering pedestrians versus the tall Miesian edifice where masses stream in and out in organized rivulets.
Everyone also looks great (even Harron is neatly dressed), but fashion is also used to track Caroline’s gradual ascension into the executive branch through more formal clothes, darker colours, and pinned-up hair that declares She Means Business, and yet while she may be veering towards the colder terrain of Farrow, Lange’s innate charm ensures Caroline remains humane.
It’s also aided by her ongoing living arrangements with the other two girls, but there’s a sense their roommate arrangements come from the screenwriters, pleasing Negulesco’s favored template as well as keeping Caroline close to the actions and fates of her friends, as when April bolts from a running car and ends up in the hospital; and Gregg literally loses her mind after she’s rejected by her one true love (sleazy Jourdan).
Negulesco was a skilled director – the former painter applied his good eye to crafting visually gorgeous dramas – but in moving from classic noirs to CinemaScope productions, he strangely settled on tales involving three women finding love, deceit, adventure, and true blue friendships. The women start out on almost equal footing (often because they’re sharing the same home) before love drags them into different directions. Unlike Negulesco’s How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Three Coins in a Fountain (1954) which co-starred Jourdan, and The Pleasure Seekers (1964), Everything is quite dark, and there’s really no easy happy ending for any of the girls.
April does find a nice guy, but he’s a schmuck with no intention of allowing her a career; his only scene has him bringing her a bag of worn socks to mend as a portent of their ‘traditional’ marriage. Scumbag Dexter drives off with no worries of being socially scared by his nastiness towards April; Caroline settles for Mike knowing his drinking isn’t under control; and the entire female staff at Derby remains on alert as Shalimar and his lurid boozing & gazing & pinching continue with impunity.
To Alfred Newman’s credit, while the score is wholly mono-thematic (it seems every radio station is either playing the main theme or the tune ‘Something’s Got to Give’), there are some great dark sections that add dimension and gravitas to Greggg’s otherwise weird tumble into a stalker and trash bin rummaging, and Negulesco’s Dutch angles. The title theme (sung by Johnny Mathis) is great, but the finale’s vocal track that wraps up the film is oozing with greasy schmaltz.
Twilight Time’s ported over both the commentary track and trailer & Fox Movietone newsreel from the 2005 DVD, and added a stereo isolated score track, showing off both Newman’s skills and the power of Fox’s marvelous studio orchestra. In her essay, Julie Kirgo is quite passionate in celebrating the style and melodrama of this very classy production, and points out some of the main changes that ensured the script and final film would keep the censors quiet. Also cited are two other Negulesco films involving trios of women – Woman’s World (1954) and A Certain Smile (1958) – made during his “After CinemaScope” / post-noir period.
The HD transfer is really gorgeous, and many close-ups are incredibly sharp; even backgrounds are sufficiently clear that one can spot a funny in-joke planted by the props department: the paperback rack in the office corner is filled with book versions of popular Fox movies including The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956), Compulsion (1959), South Pacific (1958), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) which co-starred Baker.
In spite of an excellent cast of pros, the film is very much a starring vehicle for Lange who carries the film and shows she could play a strong-willed character who learns, wisens, and still remains grounded, retaining the respect of her former typing pool colleagues – illustrated by her day’s end walkout before meeting booze-hound Mike in the street just prior to the End Credits.
Before Lange would move into TV, earning an Emmy Award Nomination for Fox’s spin-off TV series The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968-1970), she would co-star with Elvis Presley in Clifford Odette’s Wild in the Country (1961) and Pocketful of Miracles (1961).
Former model Suzy Parker appeared in a few films – Circle of Deception (1960), The Interns (1962), Flight from Ashiya (1964), and Chamber of Horrors (1966) – and assorted TV series before retiring in 1970.
Diane Baker would continue to play supporting roles in Fox productions like Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), The 300 Spartans (1962), and Nine Hours to Rama (1963) before more interesting fare in William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964) with co-star Joan Crawford, Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), and notably the love interest in Edward Dmytryk’s underrated Mirage (1965).
For Stephen Boyd, 1959 was his peak year, co-starring in Fox’s Woman Obsessed as an abusive asshole and as a jealous Messala in MGM’s blockbuster Ben-Hur, whereas Robert Evans would bid farewell to acting and eventually become a top production executive at Paramount in the early 1970s, supporting a gaggle of classic films: The Godfather (1972), Chinatown (1974), and Marathon Man (1976).
Super-tanned Brett Halsey never quite made it as a major star, and was often cast in B-movies – Return of the Fly (1959), Atomic Submarine (1959) – before migrating to Italy where he appeared in many spaghetti westerns, and two films for Mario Bava: the western Roy Colt & Winchester Jack (1970), and the erotic comedy Four Times That Night (1972).
Toronto-born Don (Donald) Harron appeared in single episodes of numerous network TV series (The Invaders), but found fame as the homespun rustic wit Charlie Farquuarson in Hee Haw (1969-1986).
Fox later launched a short-lived, daytime soap on ABC in 1970, starring blink-and-she’s-gone Bonnie Bee Buzzard, M’el Dowd, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Patricia (Patty) McCormack, and Gale Sondergaard.
© 2015 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review