SOMETHING for Everyone follows a predictable fairy-tale formula for its plot: impoverished Countess von Ornstein and her two children are restored to wealth by a dashing adventurer named Conrad in a fable which ends with a grand wedding. The lubricant of the story, however, is sex: sex perverted, sex sublimated into aggression, sex released in libidinal fantasy. The result of Harold Prince's debut directorial effort for the screen is a minor masterpiece of black comedy.
Most fairy-tales are parodies of history (knight-errantery, courtly love, etc.); Something for Everyone, through parody of the fairy-tale, slyly parodies history. It unmasks in a Bavarian setting the rise of a parvenn power-maniac, played by Michael York, as a cool mastery of perversion and murder. Angela Lansbury as the Countess von Ornstein nostalgically bewails the passing of "real men"-that stalwart Germanic breed in direct lineage from Attila the Hun and Barbarossa. In a world of "upstarts, the American tourists and plastic dirndls," she craves submission to a genuinely phallic male like Conrad. She also craves money.
Conrad insinuates himself into the Ornstein family circle first by murdering a groom, then by revealing the Nazi obsessions of the stolid head butler. While sexually subduing both doe-eyed, effeminate Helmut and the Countess, Conrad seduces the unprepossessing daughter of a German magnate. The millionaire and his imbecilic wife want to buy a castle and instant social status. Conrad, of course, sees the connection between their ambitions and the Countess' wish to re-open her decayed ancestral fief, Helmut marries the heiress, though he and his bride aspire only to sexual bliss with Conrad. Conrad himself mercy awaits the chance to murder the heiress and her parents, to propel him openly into prominence and wealth as savior of the Ornstein dynasty. Barbarian blood, as the old historical axiom goes, refreshes the withered, in-bred stock of effete aristocrats. In fairy-tale fashion, all who have survived live happily ever after.
HUGH WHEELER'S screenplay is shot through with lurid wit, and Harold Prince, though he is slow setting the narrative in motion, soon enough hits a satisfying, brisk pace. The product has an elegant playfulness which spares it from the pall which pervades black comedy of the Losey-Pinter genre. Contributing to the atmosphere of levity are Heidelinde Weiss as the voyeur daughter and Anthony Corlan as the homosexual son. They give two wildly funny performances.
But Angela Lansbury, as the Countess, wins honors hands down as the film's principal asset. She not only parades around in a dazzling array of black and/or white costumes, but also dominates several of the most clever scenes in the film. Whether insulting her lesbian attendant, or shrieking for fine strawberries, or flamboyantly embracing the quest for money, Lansbury brings to her part the exaggerated theatricality which came off so well in Prince's Mame. After announcing her engagement to Conrad, she takes her fat daughter aside and says: "I was thinking of pink for the bridesmaids, but really, my dear, you do discourage me."
Michael York, however, should hold our strongest interest, for his performance, while less glossy than Lansbury's, correlates both the brutality and humor of the film's concerns. As Conrad (a latter-day Hitler?), he bodes forth a concept of sex as power appropriate to a new age of barbarism. His barbarism is intellectual: he kills, he fornicates, but he also reasons.
There are many fine touches: the Fellini-esque Bavarian music-makers who pop up on hillsides and in taverns, the bloated Wagnerian singers who rush at each other on stage as Conrad's eye seeks his victims in the opera balcony, the gaudy wedding cake of a hunting-lodge decked out for the Countess's garden party. And, finally, a surprise ending throws the ultimate psychological confusion into a film which plays bewitching games with violence and sex.