Release Date(s)1959 (July 14, 2015)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
The 1959 melodrama The Best of Everything is one of those miracle movies where everything seems to have gone exactly right – there’s no one element that seems particularly different from or superior to those found in other films of its ilk, yet somehow the combination of material, director, stars, producer, designers, and period just clicks to create a classic. There had been movies like The Best of Everything before – hell, director Jean Negulesco had done at least three himself (How to Marry a Millionaire, Three Coins in a Fountain, and Woman’s Work) – but none achieved its supreme blend of romance, controversy, high style and poignancy. And none would again; though Valley of the Dolls would revive the formula eight years later, by that time the innocence was long gone and the genre changed into something else entirely.
Broadly speaking, The Best of Everything is what they used to condescendingly refer to as a “woman’s picture,” though of a very specific type. Like all the movies mentioned in the paragraph above (and like dozens of others going back to Our Blushing Brides in 1930 and Three on a Match two years later), it follows three single women in the big city as they struggle to find love, and to balance it with work. Hope Lange, Diane Baker, and Suzy Parker (all terrific) meet each other at a publishing house where they work as secretaries while falling in and out of love with a series of mostly jerks – though alcoholic editor Stephen Boyd does provide a surprisingly viable possibility for Lange. They clash with a domineering boss (Joan Crawford – star of Our Blushing Brides) and rise (Lange), fall (Parker), or find romance in tragedy (Baker).
A superficial description of the plot does nothing to indicate how flat-out terrific this movie is, though, and even after having seen it dozens of times I find it hard to put my finger on what it does better than other melodramas of its era (or even what it does better than its late 20th century offspring, Sex and the City, which comes across as positively flimsy by comparison). A lot of credit probably has to go to producer Jerry Wald, a one-time screenwriter (The Roaring Twenties) who put the package together and first convinced young novelist Rona Jaffe to write the book. That book was already a sensation when the movie started filming thanks to its frank discussions of single life and sex; though some aspects of the novel were softened for the screen (particularly an abortion), enough hot button material remained to make The Best of Everything a sensation upon its release. Over fifty years later, the movie still feels surprisingly blunt and mature, maybe because big studio releases barely ever deal with this kind of material anymore – one of the pleasures of The Best of Everything is watching adult characters in adult situations in a huge, glossy movie that has the production values of a studio tent pole.
Again, credit must be given to Wald, who saw the value in getting every physical detail right – something that was ex-painter Negulesco’s specialty. Every costume and every set here is thought through with an exquisite sense of visual design; it’s like Mad Men as reimagined by Edward Hopper. The multi-colored publishing office is a particular triumph, and it – and everything else in this vivid, eye-popping film – looks dynamite on Blu-ray. The transfer is top-notch, particularly in terms of its fidelity to the original palette; some reviewers have complained of excessive blue tones, but having seen the film projected recently off of an archival print straight from 20th Century Fox, I can attest to the fact that the Blu-ray flawlessly reproduces the colors and contrast of the film as it was shot. The DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix is solid but ever so slightly out of balance in terms of the music (also included as an isolated audio track), which is a bit overwhelming in comparison to the dialogue and effects. This is a minor complaint, however, and overall the presentation here is superb. The same goes for a commentary track by Rona Jaffe and film historian Sylvia Stoddard, who take turns narrating the movie and provide a perfect balance of production history, background on cast and crew members, and amusing personal anecdotes. It may be corny and obvious to say so, but The Best of Everything is a movie – and a Blu-ray – that lives up to its title.
- Jim Hemphill