Turns out playing the conniving Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) isn’t the only great villainous turn in Angela Lansbury’s filmography. The beloved British actress, best known to many for the kindhearted characters she has played in later life, lends a gleefully craven quality to Something for Everyone, an obscure black comedy that marked the cinematic debut of the great Broadway director Harold Prince. Yet Lansbury’s character isn’t the true antagonist of this elegantly made picture—she’s an accomplice of sorts to an even greater monster, played by leading man Michael York. Together, they energize the film’s acidic commentary on the dark side of human nature.
Set in Bavaria shortly after World War II, the picture opens on Konrad (York), a stranger who drifts into a small village with eyes on the nearby castle, which is occupied by Countess Herthe von Ornstein (Lansbury) and her small household staff. To be more specific, the Countess lives in a small residence on the castle grounds because her wealth has diminished so greatly she can’t afford to maintain the castle. Konrad charms and schemes his way into an audience with the Countess, eventually securing a job as a chauffeur. Meanwhile, he attracts romantic attention from Lotte (Jane Carr), the Countess’ unglamorous daughter; Helmuth (Anthony Higgins), the Countess’ closeted gay son; and Annaliese (Heidelinde Weis), a beautiful young heiress whose family travels through the village at an opportune moment.
Determined to achieve social stature and wealth by whatever means necessary—while also indulging his considerable appetites—Konrad becomes Lotte’s adversary, Helmuth’s lover, and Annaliese’s fiancé. Yet only two people see the full scope of Konrad’s machinations, one of whom is the Countess. She’s amused and somewhat aroused by Konrad’s naked ambition, both complimenting and criticizing him by labeling Konrad “shameless, outrageous, and utterly immoral.” The Countess tacitly endorses Konrad’s plotting because she envisions various outcomes by which his success could also be her success.
Based on a novel by Henry Kressing and nimbly adapted by screenwriter Hugh Wheeler, Something for Everyone benefits from magisterial presentation. In addition to luxuriant costuming and locations, the dexterous score by Broadway great John Kander amplifies the story’s caustic aspects. (Two years later, York starred in Bob Fosse’s astonishing movie Cabaret, based on the stage musical by Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb.) Although York has the most screen time, Lansbury dominates with her gracefully disdainful presence, especially when spewing such world-weary lines as, “There are no men anymore—just facsimiles.” The movie goes to so many dark places that some viewers may find it distasteful, so it’s unsurprising that Something for Everyone was not a success during its original release and now remains, at best, a minor cult favorite. For those who enjoy the film’s very specific mixture of elements, however, Something for Everyone is lush homage to pure evil.
Something for Everyone: GROOVY