July 16, 2009

The Best of Everything (1959)

My Ratings:
Production Design (wardrobe/hair+makeup & set design & milieu) = 7.5
Performances/Direction = 6.5

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The Best of Everything is a film based on a novel of the same title and focuses on three young professional women working in New York City in the 1950s.

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While the novel chronicles the journeys of five women, the movie narrowed it down to three and the producers had purposely cast a blond, a brunette, and a redhead. The film opens with a gorgeous Hope Lange as "Caroline Bender," a recent Radcliff graduate who answers an employment ad in the newspaper calling for secretaries for a premier publishing company.
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The brunette "April Morrison" is played by Diane Baker. Caroline's first day at the company was coincidentally April's first day as well. April got the job on account of her roommate Gregg, who has been a secretary for that company for a short while already.
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Suzy Parker plays the redhead "Gregg Adams," the third girl in the trio. For those of you unfamiliar with fashion history, Suzy Parker was one of the top supermodels of her day.
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Her character came into the office wearing a scarf and sunglasses because she was horribly late, getting in at lunch instead of the mandatory 9am clock-in. Allegedly when Parker took off her scarf and shook out her gorgeous red hair, the entire audience at the premiere gasped in awe of her great beauty.
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And finally we have the legendary Joan Crawford portraying the ruthless, Devil-Wears-Prada-esque senior editor "Ms. Farrow." Note the "Ms." as her character was middle aged and yet unmarried.
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The three girls quickly become great friends and April and Gregg invited Caroline to be their roommate in their tiny New York apartment.
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Now let's take a more in-depth look at these four women and their various wardrobe pieces!

First up is April. April is the "naive" one in the trio. Her parents never talked to her about sex so she remains rather innocent to the whole concept. Gullible and eager to please, she sort of falls into a bad situation with a rich, good-looking playboy thinking that he truly loved her when all he wanted was to sleep with her.

April was as fresh and green as her cute dress suit:
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Loving: her lunchbox!
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April is cajoled into downing alcohol by the handsome, charismatic playboy she meets at the company picnic. Loving: her white eyelet dress. Worth enlarging to see the details.
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April happily catches the bouquet at a fellow coworker's wedding. Note the blond woman to her right, wearing the gorgeous beige & black dotted dress with the large shawl neck collar. Is that the correct term for that type of collar by the way?
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Now it's April's turn to get married...or so she thinks. I love how simple wedding dresses were back in the 1950s.
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Next we have Gregg, whose real passion is acting. Her secretarial job is just something used to pay the bills while she ambitiously auditions for plays and commercials on the side. She is sort of the carefree fun-loving one, with a penchant for wild parties.

Gregg taking dictation on one of the rare times she actually shows up at the office.
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the classic trench.
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so very Jackie O:
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Suzy Parker was actually pregnant at the time when the film was shooting, which was why she appeared "curvier" than usual. In all her fashion editorials, she was always stick thin.
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Eventually Gregg meets a playwright/director at a small cocktail party thrown by her boss Ms. Farrow, and the two giddily absconded with a couple bottles of wine to his apartment afterwards. Yadda yadda yadda, she lands a lead role in his play.

Below is actually a shot of Ms. Farrow's lavishly decorated apartment. I wonder why the chandelier was hung so low?
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This image below is of the director's more contemporary apartment. Notice the strange orange lamp that reminds me of the durian fruit.
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That red gown is to-die-for. So gorgeous. No idea who the designer is. Dior perhaps?
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While the other two girls' stories lines just as well developed, the real lead belonged to the character of Caroline. She is the most ambitious, level-headed, and educated one of the three. Like many of the working women of the 1950s, she takes a job in order to become more financially independent but considers it really just a temporary pastime while she waits to get married. Her fiancé is pursuing a degree abroad and plans to return in a year so she had no intention of climbing the corporate ladder at first. But then her intelligence gets the better of her and she gets promoted anyway, becoming quite successful in the end.

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Below is an example of the quintessential 1950s dress with the small, belted waist. This type of style evolved out of a desire to accentuate a woman's femininity because after the war ended, women were expected to basically return to their domestic roles a keepers of the home. During WWII, an immense percentage of women entered the workforce and took on grunge jobs out of necessity because the men were off fighting. However the austere and economical forms of dress promoted in the 40s were quickly dropped in preference of exaggerated feminine ones (garter belts, bullet braziers, hour-glass figures, etc) in the following era.

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Also note the high-waisted dress suits. And you thought cropped blazers were a recent thing!
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empire cut:
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As Caroline climbs the corporate ladder, you'll notice that she begins to wear her hair up instead of down. This was a fashion statement employed by actual female executives at the time to denote their professional status. The higher up you go, the more "put together" you have to look.
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Another example of the high-waisted dress suit with a cropped jacket.
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Love the navy opera coat with the three quarters length sleeves. It had a silky sheen to it that's difficult to tell from the photo below.
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Gorgeous navy dress worn with white gloves to a wedding:
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A close-up view of the pleated detailing in the bodice:
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Here she is toward the end of the film, after getting promoted. Notice how she's wearing a hat. When we first meet her at the beginning, she was also wearing a hat and was immediately picked out as being "the newbie" because she didn't know that the unspoken hat privilege were reserved for the more higher ups. Apparently female executives in those days wore their hats all day long. Having a hat on gave off the appearance that they were always preparing to go out, that they had somewhere important to be.
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And finally we have Joan Crawford as senior editor Ms. Farrow. Ms. Farrow is painfully insecure and is constantly feeling threatened by ambitious young professionals like Caroline. Caroline gets assigned to be her secretary on her first day on the job but in reality - as I'm told in the film commentary - a woman executive who was as high up as Ms. Farrow would rarely be assigned a newbie. Her secretary would be one that has been with the company for a long time, knew all her tasks very well, was incredibly efficient, and has proven to be absolutely no threat to the executive's job position.
Notice all of Ms. Farrow's jewelry - her large pearl necklaces, earrings, and brooches.
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And here a few more images of the other secretaries at their company, just for fashion's sake:
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That red sweater top is a little low buttoned, don't you think?
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Ah yes, changing from practical shoes into high heels after one gets to the office. Still very much done nowadays.
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Love the white eyelet blouse below:
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Overall, The Best of Everything was an enjoyable film but it was not what I had expected. The description on the back cover made it seem like it would be a fun, lighted romantic comedy filled with pretty girls in pretty clothes. For some reason, I likened it to How to Marry a Millionaire. But it's not. Be warned. It's actually quite a serious drama that chronicles the professional and personal relationships of these three main characters and gives us a realistic and somewhat heartbreaking glimpse into "what it was really like" being a professional woman in that era and all the changing attitudes of that decade. It's a bit drawn-out and moves slowly and I felt disappointed after my fist viewing. But after going back again and listening to the commentary, I began to appreciate it so much more. And now I can safely say that I do recommend this film. Just be patient with it though.

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13 comments:

Thanks for this post. I must rent this movie, I hadn't heard it before. I LOVE the apartment and I LOVE that silky navy trench, and several of the dresses. This was great, thank you.

Okay, another film to put on my Netflix list. Funny, but I think I just read about this book somewhere else recently (another blog I'm sure) but I can't remember where.

I think its called a portrait collar or portrait neckline (shawl collar)

By the way, the other blog was Basket of Kisses, the fan blog for AMC's Mad Men. It was in the comments for research materials to get prepared for the third season, (which starts soon!) based somewhere in the mid-1960s.

I sent the ladies who run the blog an email about your post so you might get some traffic because of it. ;)

lsaspacey - I actually have Mad Men on DVD but haven't gotten pass the 1st episode yet! I heard it's really good and of course the fashions are amazing. I'll have to get around to it one of these days. Thanks for sending them an email! Traffic is always good!

Hi, we will be linking here soon. You will DIE for the fashions on Mad Men. Die.

IMDb for this film says "costumes by Adele Palmer," if that helps.

Sunday,
Deborah from that last comment is from Basket of Kisses, though her profile doesn't say so. They linked to you today.

Isaspacey - Ooh, thanks for the heads up! I really need to watch Mad Men. I have season 1 on DVD. I just need to get to it. It's just that it's hard for me to stop watching something once I start and I KNOW I'll be parked in front of the tv for 24hrs straight if I break open Mad Men. At least with movies, it's generally 2hrs or less. ;-)

Wonderful post about a longtime film love of mine. The screen caps are awesome. I linked to this at my place. I will check out the rest of your blog; I already admire your taste. HAGD!

Completely gorgeous screencaps. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Yes, it is called a Portrait Collar...and it's a doozy. Thanks for profiling one of my favorite "career gal" films. It's a fine pairing with Desk Set, full of darling "work togs", too. But nice for us gals whose bodies are as vintage as the clothing!
Warmly, Marline (Costume Maven, Rochester, NY)

I've just discovered your blog--it's terrific--thank you! And thanks for this excellent recap of TBOE.

I wonder whether you've ever thought of writing about the film "Julia" (with Annette Bening). It might appeal to your sensibilities. Or The Duchess of Duke Street? Another gem.

Thanks again for your work.

Susan Barsy

@Susan Barsy Thank you so much for the compliments! I absolutely adore the film Julia but I haven't seen The Duchess of Duke Street yet. Thanks for the recommendation! I'll definitely check it out.

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