Review: Best of Everything, The
4 / 5 Stars
For a talent as prodigious as the legendary Alfred Newman, it really says something that over eighty of the two hundred-plus scores he composed in his lifetime were penned during his lengthy tenure at Twentieth Century Fox. Not to mention the fact that he also wrote the famous Fox Fanfare (as well as its illustrious Cinemascope Extension), no doubt one of the most instantly recognizable pieces of music in all of cinema. So how wonderful it is that FSM's latest Golden Age Classics release, Newman's fine score to the self-proclaimed "women's picture" The Best Of Everything, preserves his very last piece of work for the studio before his departure in 1959.
The movie is a melodramatic look at the lives of several young women seeking romantic happiness in (then) modern-day New York City, only to discover the spurious and perfunctory truth that men are just a bunch of pigs. I suppose that was a revolutionary notion for its day, akin but not quite as adroit as the serious underpinnings of another contemporary film of the moment, Delmer Daves' classic A Summer Place. And like Max Steiner's legendarily wistful "Theme From A Summer Place", The Best Of Everything frequently conjures a light and romantic mood that to today's ears evokes a potent feeling of nostalgia.
The "Main Title" lays down the ground work for what's to come, beginning with what will be a B-theme for the trials and tribulations of the main characters. Warm strings and the bold piano colorings reminiscent of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" immediately remind the listener of how Alfred Newman helped to define the musical sound of an entire era of films. We then segue into the dreamily romantic title song, featuring Newman's simple but never simplistic A-theme with lyrics by Sammy Cahn and crooned by silken-voiced Christmas carol legend Johnny Mathis.
To be honest, most of the body of this score consists of different and lovely variations on these two themes, and it is a testament to Newman's talents that the seventy-minute-plus CD never overstays its welcome. "Goodnight" states the main theme for an earnest violin, while "The Auditions" paints the same tune with brass and luxurious piano glissandos. "The Apartment" arranges the theme for a seven-piece Jazz ensemble, while "London Calling", "The Pied Piper", and "The Real Kiss" are full orchestral highlights featuring Newman's trademark gorgeous string writing and flute solos. The middle cue in particular, colored with dreamy and fluttering strings, really shows the brilliant skill of arranger Cyril Mockridge.
Newman's B-theme gets a lot of mileage as well, slowly developing from a state of hopeful intimidation ("Who Wanted It" and "Gregg (New York)") into a cold and relentless death knell for one of the doomed protagonists ("Then Let Go – Now", "I'm Busy Tonight", and "Gregg's Dementia"). The theme reaches a truly unsettling apex with "Death For Gregg", the emotional apotheosis of the entire score, which segues from the empowering A-theme turns of "I Won't Be Your Mistress" into a horrifying orchestral plunge.
Newman's also got some other secondary themes working in and out of the fabric, most notably the diversely pretty "Barbara And Sidney" and "The Corsage", an undulating waltz. Also of note, in a kind of sick way, is the cue called "The Rape", probably the most low-key and sexy piece of source music ever to have that label stamped on it.
Then, after nearly fifty minutes of straight score, FSM packs on an additional twenty-two minutes of music, all of it interesting but mostly consisting of various source cues by Newman's brother Lionel and mono safety transfers of some of the more warbly cues from the score itself.
In all, this is another great package from FSM, with exhaustively detailed liner notes from Herr Kendall himself, who clearly must genuinely enjoy picking apart these old flicks. The Best Of Everything is a fine final feather in Alfred Newman's cap at Twentieth Century Fox, and for classic film music lovers, the CD is a must-own.
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