The hit AMC series, “Mad Men,” which returns for its sixth season Sunday night, has gotten a lot of mileage out of its time-travel aspect of taking the viewer back to Manhattan office life of the early 1960s — with men in suits and ties, women in dresses, three-martini lunches, and the emergence of feminism and the notion of sexual harassment still a decade away.
I wonder if the remarkable design team of “Mad Men” took a look at the 1959 drama “The Best of Everything,” set largely in the offices of a New York City publishing company.
If you love the retro chic look of the AMC series, the 20th Century Fox hit is worth a look simply for the set and costume designs.
The movie itself is a rather horrifying soap opera about women in the workplace at the dawn of the Kennedy era. If you want a glimpse of the forces that set the feminist revolution in motion a decade later, you can’t do much better than this dramatization of the Rona Jaffe novel about three young women trying to survive in the business world.
The Jaffe book and the film adaptation probably inspired Jacqueline Susann’s mid-1960s bestseller “Valley of the Dolls,” about another trio of young women starting out in show business.
Hope Lange (above, with Stephen Boyd) plays the central role in “The Best of Everything,” a nice young college graduate, Caroline Bender, who is still living with her parents in Wilton, CT., when she lands her typist job at Fabian Publishing.
Caroline dreams of becoming an editor, but has to start in the typing pool with aspiring actress Gregg Adams (Suzy Parker, below) and the very naive April Morrison (Diane Baker). Soon the three women are living together in a cramped apartment and sharing their office and dating woes.
The young women work for a dragon lady boss, Amanda Farrow (Joan Crawford, right), who is presented as a cautionary tale of what happens to women if they put their careers ahead of settling down with Mr. Right. Amanda’s love life consists of occasional trysts with a married man from the heartland who makes regular business trips to New York.
All of the women at Fabian Publishing — young and old — are subjected to the lecherous advances of top editor Fred Shalimar (Brian Aherne) who pinches and/or gropes virtually every woman he passes.
Fred’s “work” seems to consist of getting plastered in his office and telling anyone who will listen about the days when he used to edit “Gene” O’Neill.
All three of the office friends go through disastrous romantic relationships — Gregg with a director (Louis Jourdan) who seduces and abandons her; April with a rich wastrel (Robert Evans, before he turned to producing movies) who gets her pregnant and then dumps her; and Caroline with an ex-fiance (Brett Halsey) who wants her to become his mistress on the side.
The movie is appalling on many levels but is irresistible as well. The actresses are terrific despite their retrograde roles and the movie’s portrait of the bad old days of male-female relationships will dispel any nostalgia for working in Manhattan 50 years ago.