Thursday, March 26, 2015

Want "The Best Of Everything"? Just Ask Stephen Boyd!

It's a dog-eat-dog-world out there and these gals are wearing Milk Bone girdles: The wage slaves of "The Best of Everything."

Hey to all you movie lovers out there!

Before there was Sex and the City, there was The Best of Everything.

Before there was Miranda Priestly, there was Amanda Farrow.

Before there was "The Devil Wears Prada", there was "The Best of Everything" (1959).

This soap opera cum fashion parade cum chick flick is both a celebration of female independence and a warning that female independence is merely a flashy euphemism for childless, bitter, lonely, menopausal, regret-filled she-freak.

Based on the Rona Jaffey novel, "The Best of Everything" brings Vassar-educated Hope Lange (fresh off "Peyton Place"), supermodel Suzy Parker (as an aspiring actress) and green-horn Diane Baker to the Big Apple, where they toil away in the secretarial pool at a glitzy publishing house.

Shown around the office by hyper chatty Mary Agnes (Sue Carson), Lange learns that fashion editor Martha Hyer is a young divorcee with a baby, forced to live with mom and has no chance at future happiness ("Most men want their own children, not somebody else's," M-A proclaims). We also discover that lofty Fred Shalimar (Brian Aherne) is a lush who pinches and gropes. However, the real terror of the office is Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford), a tough-as-nails editor with alien eyebrows, a bullet proof coiffure and a tongue she wields like a hatchet.

Boss from Hell Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford) is not amused.

When Lange casually asks if Crawford wants her report typed, the diva editor fixes her with a glacial smile and replies, "No, beat it out on native drum."

Geez, just asking...

Farrow, you see, is convinced every college-educated gal in the world is after her job, which is why the 50ish spinster (who is having an affair with a married executive!) goes out of her way to bully, brow-beat, bitch-slap and bulldoze everyone in the typing pool. And of course, Farrow doesn't buy it when her underlings insist they are only working until they get married--in fact, office manager Mary Agnes prattles endlessly about nothing else but her engagement ring, her wedding dress and her honeymoon nightie, which she brags is so sheer "it could fit in your fist."

While finding her way around the office (and becoming roomies with Parker and Baker), Lange catches the eye of hot-shot writer/reporter and marathon drinker Mike Rice (Stephen Boyd, future star of "The Oscar"). Boyd counsels newbie Hope to "accomplish everything you want to in six months", then "get out quickly" and "love happily ever after", presumably to avoid turning into Crawford.

The mush-mouthed Boyd needn't worry. At home drinking bubbly with Parker and Baker, Lange declares that "she'll have to take a lover" if Rhodes Scholar beau Eddie (Brett Halsey) doesn't make it legal between them by the time she's 25.

Green as grass Baker agrees, adding, "When you're that old, you have a right to live."

Working girls Hope Lange, Suzy Parker and Diane Baker laugh (and drink) their troubles away.

Baker also reveals that her mother never counseled to not have an affair "because she knows I'll never have one."


Because "The Best of Everything" is a big, glossy, full-color flick, viewers aren't stuck watching the cast type reports all day long. The leading ladies' personal lives quickly take center stage and, I warn you, it's heart break full steam ahead!

Hope Lange finally receives a call from true love Eddie, only to discover he's up and married some oil heiress. Distraught, Lange goes out on the town with Boyd and subsequently downs more shots than a frat boy on Spring Break. Thoroughly soused, she throws herself at Boyd screaming, "Make love to me! Twenty-five is too far ahead!"--then passes out cold. Ever the gentleman, Boyd covers Lange up and lets her sleep it off, her virginity safe and sound, at least for now. Later on, Hope will graduate from typist to reader, causing Crawford's eyes to narrow and her nostrils to flare.

Aspiring actress Parker, meanwhile, finally lands her big break on the Great White Way. She also begins a torrid affair with worldly director David Savage (the ultra suave Louis Jourdan). Although Parker professes to be a love 'em and leave 'em gal (her mom was married three times, no less), the actress deep down really wants to find a good husband along with good parts.

Aspiring actress Greg (Suzy Parker) feels like trash after director Louis Jourdan dumps her.

Savage, however, is so used to sleeping with his leading ladies that he quickly grows tired of Suzy's clingy domestic overtures. He even demotes her from cast member to understudy and she still doesn't take the hint. Desperate to be his gal at any cost, Parker takes to doing Louie's laundry, rummaging through his trash and sleeping on the fire escape outside his flashy bachelor pad. Then one day Parker's heel gets stuck in the grating and she falls splat! onto the pavement below. Jourdan, who has a new play in rehearsal and more starlets to bed, mourns her very briefly.

Now we come to innocent Diane Baker. At a company event taking place at a fancy estate in the Hamptons, she meets Dexter Key, played by future Paramount Pictures wonder boy Robert Evans. He's a trust fund brat a la' Conrad Hilton III (Paris' kid brother) and he wows Baker with his piano playing/fancy car rich boy attentions. Of course, they go all the way (although Baker tries to "stay pure" as long as she can) and of course she gets a bun in her country oven. The caddish Dexter, on the other hand, is in no mood to tie the knot. Instead, he blames Diane for getting pregnant and insists she undergo an abortion. Horrified, Baker leaps out of Evans' speeding convertible and lands in an unconscious heap on the sidewalk.

When we next see Evans, he's coolly paying the hospital bill and preparing to make himself scarce. Before he goes, Lange tells him off and slaps his puss for good measure--you go, girl! Unfortunately, Baker is so disillusioned  by the whole sordid mess she can only wail, "I'm so ashamed. Now I'm just someone who's had an affair."

Ain't it the truth, girls?

In case you're wondering, Lange isn't doing much better. Oh, sure, on the surface things look good. Hope has been promoted to editor, just like Joan Crawford. She gets a fancy office, just like Joan Crawford. She starts smoking, just like Joan Crawford. She starts having an affair with a married man, just like Joan Crawford...OH MY GOD, HOPE LANGE SCREAMS, I'M TURNING INTO JOAN CRAWFORD JUST LIKE STEPHEN BOYD SAID I WOULD!!!!

"I take my hat off to you..." Hope Lange learns "The Best of Everything" begins and ends with Stephen Boyd.

This is a horrible thing because, as we all know, Joan would go on to appear in such tripe as "Straight Jacket" and "Trog", two flicks nobody wants on their resume. Then daughter Christina pens Mommie Dearest ....need I say more?

Luckily, Hope is a smart cookie. After she learns that Joan's 11th-our attempt at matrimony died a quick death ("It was too late for me..." she laments) she meets Boyd on a street corner. They exchange knowing looks. Lange removes her pillbox hat with a veil. The music swells. Do they marry? Go bar hopping? Find the nearest motel and make whoopski?

"The Best of Everything" doesn't say. However, I bet Hope turns in her two week notice and starts shopping for her honeymoon nightie pronto.

At the top of this article, I mentioned that "The Best of Everything" was a precursor to HBO's "Sex and the City". That's because both the flick and the TV show were about women looking for success and love in NYC. Hope Lange was clearly the Carrie Bradshaw of the bunch, right down to her longing for a rich, older, more experienced man. Suzy Parker, meanwhile, is closest to Samantha, although she lacked that character's supreme confidence. Diane Baker is Charlotte, the romantic dreamer who wanted both True Love and Upper West Side elegance.

The major difference, however, is that the friends in "Sex and the City" learned they had to make their own happiness; there was no cosmic one-size-fits-all blueprint. "The Best of Everything", on the other hand, states that marriage is the only path to real happiness for women. Deviate from that and you morph into Joan Crawford...according to Stephen Boyd, anyway.

I don't know if I'm really comfortable with that theory. Not the only-marriage-will-make-you-happy part; the fact that Stephen Boyd is telling you only marriage will make you happy part.

Frankly, Stephen Boyd is in no position to tell anyone anything. His character is unmarried, clearly has a drinking problem and sleeps around a lot. Later on, Boyd would star in "The Oscar", "Potato Fritz" and "Kill! Kill! Kill!". Would you take advice from such a person? Seems kinda iffy to me.

So, on that note, I leave you. Keep a VHS in your VCR, avoid Stephen Boyd at all costs and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Run For Your Life! It's "Mr. B Natural"!

Let's all meet "Mr. B Natural, second note from the left." (And, no, she/he's not doing The Robot.)

Hey kids! Are you feeling moody and depressed, anxious or worried? Is your voice changing? Are developing (or not developing) breasts? Are pimples, an oily scalp and/or hair on your legs suddenly becoming a problem?

Girls: has your "Aunt Flow" started her monthly visits?

Boys: do you live in terror of being the victim of a double jock lock in gym class?

In short, has your world turned upside down and you don't know why?

Relax! You are merely going through puberty, a time of intense physical and psychological change! And if you are at a loss as to how you are going to navigate this mine field of hormones, anxiety, fear, exhilaration, social awkwardness and peer pressure, don't give it another thought!

The hapless Buzz (far left of the photo) yearns to fit in like the other hip kids at school.


Because Mr. B Natural is here!

Who is Mr. B Natural, you ask?

Why Mr. B Natural is the star of the greatest, goofiest, nuttiest, wackiest, most bat-shit crazy "Mental Hygiene" short ever made!

A 27-minute hysterical harangue produced in 1956 by Kling Film Productions for Conn Instruments, "Mr. B Natural" aimed to help kids manage puberty by "discovering the fun and joy in music". Once they discovered this fun and joy, kids were then encouraged to join their junior (or senior) high school band playing (what else?) Conn Instruments.

"Just put your lips together and blow": Mr. B teaches Buzz how to wail.

The star of "Mr. B Natural" is an ambiguously androgynous "hep pixie" (in Conn's words) played by the hyper perky Betty Lustre.

Flaunting a flared cape, blue tights, pixie boots and a beanie, "Mr." B Natural flits, frolics, scampers, cavorts, bounces and gads about this short like a Smurf on crack. Mr. B also has an unnerving tendency to chirp such lines as "Knew you father, I did!", "Don't be too sure that I wasn't in the Garden with Mr. and Mrs. Adam!" and "A clarinet isn't just a clarinet; it's a happy smile!" with alarming frequency.

With all due respect to Ms. Lustre, who was merely following her director's instructions, the net result is a frightening, over-the-top menace who is more likely to inspire terror in the hearts of young people than "the joy of music."

It begins like this:

Teen Buzz (Bruce Podewell, who's real nickname was Buzz) is a shy, awkward junior higher with a crush on Jeannie, "the cutest girl in school." When Jeannie invites Buzz to join the gang over at her house to try out the newest dance steps, he demurs. See, our hero believes he has no musical talent and has two left feet, and he doesn't want to disgrace himself in front his lady love, so Buzz fumbles an excuse about going home to work on a "history essay" instead.

Betty Lustre is Mary Martin as Peter Pan as Mr. B Natural.

"Suit yourself," Jeannie shrugs and the gang leaves the poor dope in the dust.

It's in Buzz's lonely bedroom that Mr. B Natural appears, shrieking like a dental drill and telling Buzz that his adolescent angst can all be cured by taking up the trumpet.

Buzz's parents, equally alarmed by their son's lack of popularity, are more than happy to buy the horn from Conn Instruments--anything to avoid having their kid be a social flop! And soon enough, Buzz is jamming away and becomes more confident, out going and popular with every note.

"Mr. B Natural" ends with Buzz playing for a school dance and impressing Jeannie with the length of his trumpet solo. His/her work done, Mr. B Natural flits off in search of other lost souls to help. The short's final image is a scary super close-up of Mr. B's smiling face. Like the perpetually frozen grin of ring wing activist Phyllis Schafly, Mr. B's demonically smiling mug is pure, 100% nightmare fuel, guaranteed to haunt your dreams for years to come.

Once more, we can thank the folks at "MST3K" for unearthing and featuring this atrocity on their show back in 1991. The SOL gang paired it with "War of the Colossal Beast", the sequel to "The Amazing Colossal Man", and it became a fan favorite. Ken Smith, meanwhile, also featured "Mr. B Natural" in his excellent book Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films 1945-1970. This tome is by far the best resource for learning EVERYTHING about the genre of "educational" or classroom films, from the directors and production companies to the films themselves (which covered every topic from how to improve your spelling to how to avoid getting VD).

A gem like "Mr. B Natural" is also another reason to love, love, love Junk Cinema. Where else but in the Junk Cinema universe will you find this type of a flick? The Conn Instrument people and Kling Film Productions had only the best of intentions when they made "Mr. B Natural"--but as we all know, the road to ruin is paved with good intentions! If you were going to make a short subject encouraging kids to take up musical instruments, would you have it star a "hep pixie" of indistinguishable gender who had breasts and a high pitched voice?

Of course, "Mr. B Natural" isn't the only gonzo short out there. Consider the Oscar winning mini-flick "Bill and Coo", a love story set in "Chirppendale", starring an all bird cast. Then there is "The Home Economics Story", where high school girls are relentlessly pounded into studying Home Ec in college to prepare for such "exciting careers" as becoming "a tea room manager" ("Thousands of customers eat out every day and never realize she's the boss!" the narrator marvels). And who can forget "Adventures in Home Decorating" where 1950's housewives are encouraged to cover every inch of their homes in "the wonder product" of Formica?

So, movie lovers, grab yourself a view of "Mr. B Natural", buy a copy of Mental Hygiene by Ken Smith and help me SAVE THE MOVIES!