Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Design for Living (1933)

DESIGN FOR LIVING was directed by Ernst Lubitsch and stars Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins. Given the creators, I was hoping for something really special, but instead I found the film merely passably entertaining.

Tom (March) and George (Cooper) are a pair of starving artist Americans in Paris; Tom is a playwright and George is a painter. The close friends each fall in love with Gilda (Hopkins), who can't decide between the two men. So she decides to move in with both of them! But romance is forbidden; instead, Gilda plans to nurture the men's artistic work. Tom and George's careers take off, but their romantic lives grow increasingly complicated.

I was expecting a light, witty souffle along the lines of Lubitsch's sparkling TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), but instead DESIGN FOR LIVING seemed more leaden than airy. One can understand Gilda's dilemma, but as time goes on the trio's romantic difficulties become more painful than funny. (In some regards the film's plot difficulties parallel 1940's TOO MANY HUSBANDS, reviewed here.) The last 10 minutes are amusing, but aren't quite enough to push the movie over the top to the next level.

The three leads all do their best with the material. Hopkins gives a wild child performance somewhat akin to her jewel thief in TROUBLE IN PARADISE. I'm especially partial to March; he and Cooper share a funny drunk scene late in the movie. The supporting cast includes Edward Everett Horton, Franklin Pangborn, Isabel Jewell, Jane Darwell, and Mary Gordon.

DESIGN FOR LIVING runs 91 minutes. The Ben Hecht screenplay was based on a play by Noel Coward. Hopkins' shimmering gowns are by Travis Banton.

DESIGN FOR LIVING is available on DVD as part of the 5-film Gary Cooper Collection. The other films in the set are THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER, BEAU GESTE, THE GENERAL DIED AT DAWN, and PETER IBBETSON.

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

July 2018 Update: Nearly ten years after first seeing DESIGN FOR LIVING, I liked the movie much more seen in 35mm with an appreciative audience.


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