The influence of Hollywood was enormous during the 1950s because the Dream Factory fueled the exuberant American lifestyle expectations. Thus Architect Morris Lapidus described his legendary 1950s Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach not as his rendering of historical French architecture, but rather as French architecture in Hollywood movies: Think Diane (1956) with its Technicolor chateau, outrageous neon sets and costumes, and Lana Turner as the fifteenth century noblewoman, Diane de Poitiers.
Rocketships into space…jet flights to weekend escapes…household air conditioning…suburban barbeques…stereo sound systems…tomorrow’s color TV today…and next year’s wilder fins on your flashy convertible—architecture, décor, fashion, and transportation were bold and glorious. Driving the exhilarating decade, Populuxe designs put the deprivations of post-World-War recovery firmly in the rearview mirror to anticipate instead the promising, unknown itinerary ahead.
By the 1950s the Hollywood’s Studio System was on its last legs—but Hollywood was by no means going gentle into its good night. Instead, ironically, gigantic CinemaScope projection and vibrant color photography made the movies bigger—flamboyant melodrama ruled the screen—musical scores were operatic…production design was epic—the Star System…and star performances…were on overdrive. Think Lana Turner’s 15 credits (Turner also appeared uncredited in Singin’ in the Rain in 1952) during that decade culminating in her masterpiece, Ross Hunter’s “spare no expense” production of Douglas Sirk’s remake of Imitation of Life (1959). Then illuminate the Populuxe era with Hollywood searchlights and screen Jean Negulesco’s The Best of Everything (1959).
Based on a controversial best seller, the movie is lush as soon as the languid lavender script of opening credits glides over the postcard images of New York City already awash in the velvety voice of Johnny Mathis working the title song. Earlier that decade, Negulesco had directed How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Three Coins in a Fountain (1954), and A Woman’s World (1954), the apogee of the Three-Girls-on-the-Move genre. His triptych of comedies deftly chided courtship in a world on the eve of the sexual revolution; sexual politics in post-World-War marriage; and gender politics in the global, corporate world. But in Negulesco’s knowing farewell to the 1950s, he explored these issues differently, triggering some tussles with the Hays Office. Moreover, since the three women each makes different lifestyle choices, no traditional Happy Ending at the final fade—instead winners and losers in love, career, and life have been determined.
Negulesco hit genre pay dirt. All Star Studio System Cast: April (Diane Baker) confronts abortion; Carolyn (Hope Lange) “literally” lets her hair down; and Gregg (Suzy Parker) stalks her lover (the always charming Louis Jordan) until she takes a Brody from his fire escape. Fred Shalimar (Brian Aherne) shines as their droll, chauvinistic boss; Mike (Stephen Boyd) as Carolyn’s love interest is bolstered on screen by Boyd’s concurrent stint as treacherous charioteer Messala in Ben Hur: Dexter (Robert Evans) all too naturally plays the unlikable womanizer; handsome Sydney (Donald Harron ) and Barbara (Martha Hyer) make a charming case for office infidelity; and pre Miranda Priestly, aging harpy Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford) makes the trio’s career aspirations hell. Even Lana Turner couldn’t give this genre film a more stunning Hollywood pedigree: Joan Crawford is in the trio of naïve young women who confront reality in Sally, Irene and Mary (1925), the silent movie most often labeled rootstock of this longstanding genre.
The real stars of the movie are Director Negulesco, three art directors, two set directors, and an Oscar-nominated costume designer. There is an avalanche of sleek costumes. The vibrant office set of Fabian Publishing is kinetic Mondrian. The Lever Building has enough screen time to be a character, and the futuristic-office-building location of Fabian was indeed New York’s one-year-old, iconic Seagram’s Building.
By the next decade, the genre had obviously outlived its potential. Women had proven the Three-Girls-on-the-Move genre dated. The 1960s addressed and soundly labeled this quest out of fashion. In fact, that innocent perspective had been replaced by disillusionment, even rage. The itinerary ahead. But in this 1950’s classic, “Romance is still the Best of Everything.”