Three heartrending performances as tough but tender women who struggle to make the best of their sometimes dire, always challenging circumstances, all coming from the pages of impactful, top-selling books splendidly filmed in Cinemascope with top-notch all-star casts. They also represent the highlights of a prodigious three-year period in the burgeoning career of the marvelous Hope Lange (1933-2003), born 84 years ago today, when she was a highly valued Twentieth Century Fox contract player, and they’re all showcased on standout Twilight Time discs. After a high-profile start in the studio’s Bus Stop (1956, which co-starred her husband Don Murray) and The True Story of Jesse James (1957), Connecticut-born Lange played New England high school student Selena Cross, whose tawdry family circumstances at the dawn of World War II creates one of the swirling scandals surrounding the problem-plagued town of Peyton Place (1957, directed by Mark Robson). Second-billed to the Grace Metalious adaptation’s veteran star Lana Turner, Lange offers the poignant arc of a victim who ultimately chooses not to surrender to degradation, as her sweet-natured character is brutalized and sexually assaulted by a vile stepfather (Arthur Kennedy), copes with an unwanted pregnancy and ultimately becomes the focus of an unsavory murder trial that brings not only her closely-held secrets to light but also those of other “solid citizens” in this less-than-picture-postcard town. Lange deservedly earned one of the box-office hit’s nine Academy Award® nominations. She graduated from Peyton Place to a more epic, more prestigious project dealing with prejudice and victimization, the devastating screen version of Irwin Shaw’s powerful war saga The Young Lions (1958, directed by Edward Dmytryk). Though the film’s spotlight is on the eventually crisscrossing fates of three fighting men (German Marlon Brando and Americans Dean Martin and Montgomery Clift), Lange’s small but poignant role as the steadfast and loving wife of Clift, portraying a Jewish clerk who has to first face the reservations of his bride’s family about their marriage at home and later a wall of bigoted hatred among his fellow GIs after shipping abroad to the front lines, symbolizes the hope of healing and reconciliation after the soul-scarring, wasteful devastation of war.
After another World War II interlude as the patient, pregnant spouse of battle-weary Marine Sgt. Jeffrey Hunter in In Love and War (1958), Lange leapt into the present day and to the head of the cast of the prescient working-girl classic The Best of Everything (1959, directed by Jean Negulesco), in which Rona Jaffe cannily novelized her experiences in the Manhattan publishing world. As Caroline, the shrewd and career-driven ringleader of a roommate trio rounded out by Diane Baker’s callow Midwesterner April and Suzy Parker’s aspiring actress Gregg, Lange took on her toughest, most spirited and – thanks to the detailed design and zeitgeist care taken by producer Jerry Wald, Negulesco and close-and-hand advisor Jaffe – most stylishly outfitted role to date. In Laura Jacobs’ fascinating March 2004 Vanity Fair chronicle of the film’s making, aptly titled The Lipstick Jungle, we learn: “The Best of Everything rewards the eye at every turn, beginning with the very first scene, when Hope Lange (Caroline) is about to enter Fabian Publishing – i.e., the Seagram Building in all its spanking, gleaming, one-year-old grandeur. As she pauses in front of the building, Lange's little crop jacket flies open to reveal a polka-dot lining – so right, so Traina-Norell. In an interview before her death last December, Lange said it wasn't planned, no wind machine – it just happened.” And Lange needed all that aforementioned toughness and spirit to hold the screen with “featured player” – and in this ensemble, “older woman” – Joan Crawford, who was indebted to Wald and Negulesco for her career-revitalizing roles in Mildred Pierce (1945) and Humoresque (1946), was tapped to play the showy but (relatively) supporting role of the women’s editorial department head at Fabian Publishing, Amanda Farrow, and yet still claiming the prerogatives of a “star.” Reel/real life intersected, and the performances of both rising newcomer and seasoned veteran took on an added charge as a result. Jacobs recounted: “The only outright tension was between Hope Lange and Crawford, between the star with first billing and the name that came last. Amanda Farrow, after all, was Crawford's first supporting role – a comedown. ‘I was fortunate because there was tension,’ said Lange. ‘Our scenes were built-in with tension. It had to have been tough to have all of these young upstarts, and there she was in a non-starring role.’” Lange enjoyed a decidedly easier camaraderie with Baker and Parker as well as her co-starring male romantic (to a degree) interest. According to Jacobs, “Hope Lange and Stephen Boyd lunched daily together in the commissary, and because of these lunches several columnists began to imply that the two were in love. Lange, then married to actor Don Murray, ‘became so upset over these rumors,’ wrote Photoplay, ‘that she nearly suffered a nervous breakdown.’ But of Boyd, who died in 1977, Lange had only fond memories (and she still wondered what aftershave lotion he wore): ‘During the film we had a great camaraderie. He had that wonderful Irish charm, and wonderful humor. And anyone who has humor I’m a sucker for.’” Lange’s own way with humor would a decade later win her two consecutive Leading Actress in a Comedy Emmy® Awards for her two-season run on TV’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. As demonstrated by Peyton Place, The Young Lions and The Best of Everything on lovingly turned-out TT hi-def Blu-rays (specially priced at either 33% or 50% off original list through Friday during our Pre-Holiday Sales Promotion), where there’s birthday honoree Hope, there’s excellence.