Saturday, July 21, 2018

Weekend Movie Fun: Design for Living (1933) at the Egyptian Theatre

It was a "Lubitsch weekend" for me, seeing three films directed by Ernst Lubitsch on a big screen in under 24 hours!

Friday evening I saw LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN (1925) and SUMURUN (1920) in Westwood as part of UCLA's current Lubitsch retrospective.

This afternoon I attended a terrific event at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, consisting of a lecture and film. The talk, cosponsored by the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, was by Allen Ellenberger, author of MIRIAM HOPKINS: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL, published last November by the University Press of Kentucky.

That was followed by the screening of a beautiful 35mm print of Hopkins starring with Fredric March and Gary Cooper in Lubitsch's DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933).

The hour-long discussion of Hopkins was amply illustrated, providing an interesting look at a woman about whom it seems there was no middle ground -- her coworkers either loved or hated her. She was viewed as a pain in the neck by some yet loved by others, including close friend Kay Francis, her costar in Lubitsch's TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932).

She also had a good relationship with her son Michael -- despite not telling him he was adopted until he was an adult. I'm looking forward to reading Ellenberger's book, which I purchased and had signed today.

I last saw DESIGN FOR LIVING almost a decade ago, and as I wrote then, I didn't much care for it at the time. I wanted to give it another try on a big screen, with an appreciative audience, and I sensed things would be different this time almost from the moment the film began. For one thing, March and Cooper were breathtakingly gorgeous in a beautiful 35mm print on the Egyptian's big screen!

The movie played far better with an audience; things I took more seriously watching it alone on the DVD today came across as much more lighthearted in tone. I found myself far more willing to suspend disbelief and buy into Hopkins' improbable relationships, simultaneously loving two men, and on the whole found it a lot more fun. It's possible that seeing the movie in a new context, after ten years of having seen a wide variety of pre-Code films, also helped me to view it differently.

Today's experience is why I sometimes find it valuable to take a second look at a film, especially if I have the opportunity to see it on a big screen with an audience; I also find that knowing what to expect can help me better appreciate a second viewing, especially if I'd been disconcerted the first time around. Another example is that earlier this year I gave IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) a second try and liked it more than I had half a decade before.

I enjoyed DESIGN FOR LIVING so much today that I think I will probably pick up the Criterion DVD before the annual Criterion summer sale ends at Barnes & Noble. Joseph McBride, who I met at UCLA earlier this month, contributes to the extras.

Next weekend there are more amazing movie opportunities at UCLA, ranging from a William Wyler film screened in nitrate to a Bob Fosse musical to a trio of silent Lubitsch films.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Hi Laura!
I was very interested in your contrasting reactions to "DESIGN FOR LIVING" on both occasions you have watched it.
I am a great fan of Noel Coward's work and have seen most of his plays on stage over the years. I was a very regular theatre-goer in London's West End in the 1960s and 70s (and then the kids came along, so that stopped! LOL) as I worked up there, lived not too far away and theatre-going was really affordable in those days. Plus, so many great stars were still to be seen there.
In 1973 I attended the Phoenix Theatre to see a new production of "DESIGN FOR LIVING" starring Vanessa Redgrave, Jeremy Brett and John Stride. An exciting prospect but I didn't enjoy it as much as expected. Being the early 70s it was given a rather hippie, free-love treatment that didn't work for me as a Coward piece. Since then I have seen a TV adaptation that was true to Coward and enjoyed it far more.
It is obviously a play that brings many reactions at different times.

12:54 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

We can never become weary or detached in the study and enjoyment of classic films. The films stay the same, but we change and relate to those same things from a new perspective. Life will never be boring for the classic film fan.

6:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I was very interested in your own feedback -- I can totally imagine someone trying to rethink the story as a "free love" thing in the '70s. Your different experiences were very interesting!

Caftan Woman, what you say is so true. It's always enriching to revisit movies at various points and see them through a fresh lens.

Best wishes,

3:47 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Design For Living is still a movie that raises some eyebrows. I remember seeing it the first time and couldn't believe the ending. It still leaves me scratching my head. I like the movie though.

Jerry, a question for you. Giving the play a hippie, free-love treatment would work well in the 70s. What k did not work for you there?

4:18 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Well, Margo, firstly I guess, I didn't especially identify with the whole 'hippie' thing and felt the play had been 'adjusted' to fit current fashion. It really didn't feel Coward at all, as presented. But that's just my personal feeling - it may well have worked well for a majority even, at that time.

11:17 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Jerry, for what it's worth, I don't identify with the hippie thing at all either. Neve got it, never will.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, you wrote a good fair reappraisal of DESIGN FOR LIVING. I've found myself always observing something different, that I may have missed the first time around. This is where I agree very much with Paddy Lee, in that viewing Classic Movies will never be boring for the fan.

Jerry, I enjoyed your take on viewing the 1973 revival of Noel Coward's play. Also, I'm envious of your being able to be a theater-goer in London during the 1960' and '70's. Along with you and Margot, I never really identified with the "hippie" movement, because I was to busy having to work, which was my bag, man. Although, I was around and viewed, up close and personal, the amusing frolicking of the hippie cats and chicks.

Margot, I agree that the movie is still somewhat eyebrow raising. Back in 1932 the play was banned in London, so Coward had to take it to Broadway. Needless to say, it was a huge hit. I like the movie, as well. Not so much for its polyamory subject matter, but for screenwriter Ben Hecht's dialogue. There is so much there to talk about. Also, it was a delight to watch Miriam Hopkins, Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and Edward Everett Horton.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, it turns out there is a British TV production introduced by Noel Coward which is part of the Criterion set; I wonder if that's the TV production you saw?

Margot, I think the whole thing so surprised me the first time around that that was part of my problem with the movie. I was like "Say what?" This time I was "Whatever!" LOL.

Walter, I enjoyed your thoughts on the film and revisiting movies. Between the movies we've never seen, the movies we love and want to see again, and the movies which merit revisiting for possible reappraisal, we'll sure never run out of things to watch!

Interesting the play was banned in London! Hecht definitely had a way with words.

Best wishes,

9:13 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

I also didn't know the play was banned in London in1932 though it's not really surprising. I'm a bit surprised Broadway allowed it.

Hecht's dialogue is indeed great, he's one of my favorite screen writers.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Hi again, Laura! Hope this train hasn't left the station completely.

I checked on the British TV production of this play that I have. It dates from 1964 and starred Daniel Massey, John Wood and Jill Bennett. Good cast.
I don't know if that is the one included in the Criterion Collection? There were four Coward plays produced for TV at that time.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry! The date is right for the TV production, when I have time I'll have to pop it in and check. I know Daniel Massey from my original Broadway cast recording of SHE LOVES ME. :)

Thanks much!!

Best wishes,

2:42 PM  

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