One week a month, Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: Equity inspires a look back at other films set in the corporate world.
By 1959, director Jean Negulesco had already helmed two movies depicting the lives of three young women looking for love in the big city: How To Marry A Millionaire and Three Coins In The Fountain. For The Best Of Everything, based on twentysomething editor Rona Jaffe’s novel, Negulesco moved the setting to the glamorous world of New York publishing. In a lovelorn typing pool, ambitious Caroline (Hope Lange), innocent April (Diane Baker), and glamorous Gregg (early supermodel Suzy Parker) are all felled by the cads they love.
The movie is about as sexist as you can get on both sides, to an almost absurd (and campy) level: There’s only one exception to a parade of male leads who may or may not be married and are just out to get a little action on the side. The young women long for love, while casanovas like Louis Jordan and Robert Evans (yes, that one) are trying to get away as fast as they can. These women, like the movie itself, are sophisticated enough to know what phrases like “stay with me” or “spend the night” mean. (Sample dialogue: “I love you!” “Then show it.” “I do!” “Not the way it counts.”) Even hinting that these women had actual sex lives was simultaneously scandalous and progressive for 1959.
There’s a reason why you see Don Draper reading Jaffe’s book in an early Mad Men episode—one relating to the ambitions of working women of the era. Like young Joan Holloway and many of her Sterling Cooper counterparts, the women of Fabian Publishing want to get married and get out. Female executives like the ruined Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford, in her first supporting role since her starlet days) are depicted as more of a cautionary tale than someone to look up to, as “poor” Amanda has no family of her own, just a married lover she is lucky to see once a week.
With a mindset fortunately far removed from the present day, the movie still holds up as a fascinating anthropological artifact as well as an engaging soap. It’s buoyed by a wistful Johnny Mathis theme song, vibrant CinemaScope, lovely Oscar-nominated costuming, and appealing leads all around (yes, even the cads). Parker is so effective as Gregg, a beautiful young woman who comes slowly unhinged in her obsession with Jordan’s character (his name’s “David Wilder Savage,” after all), that it’s surprising she didn’t have a bigger film career. To highlight her mental plight, Negulesco tilts the camera, making the audience even more unsettled. Lange’s forthright Peggy Olson-esque heroine, Caroline, is impossible not to root for, as she finds solace in work after losing her hometown sweetheart, heading for a fate just like Amanda’s. In one of the movie’s few forward-thinking plotlines, Caroline might be able to find happiness with her co-worker Mike (Stephen Boyd), a man she hasn’t fallen head-over-heels for but with whom she’s built a relationship based on friendship and mutual professional respect. Romance and career? Fortunately, a few decades later, some women would call that the best of everything.
Availability: The Best Of Everything is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Netflix and possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented digitally through YouTube.