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Several movies have had as much nonsense written about them as Ernst Lubitsch's "Design For Living." From the moment it was released, it was criticized for rewriting Noel Coward's then-daring enjoy (Ben Hecht, the screenwriter, said: "There's only one line of Coward's left in the picture--see if you can search it!"); for casting Americans in parts that had originally been played by Coward, Alfred Lunt, and Lynn Fontanne; for toning down the gay subtexts of Coward's play. All that is, of course, fully irrelevant; the question is not whether the enjoy is faithful to the source material, but whether it's good. And it is, it is.There are flaws in the film. This was one of the first times Lubitsch had made a film with tiny or no melody on the soundtrack; previously, in his musicals and his sublime "Trouble In Paradise," he had used background melody to cover up potential dead spots and carry the movie along. Here there is none of that, with the effect that some of the early scenes seem oddly paced. But the wit of the script (written by Hecht but, as everytime with Lubitsch, carefully supervised and contributed to by the director himself) and the appeal of the performers (more about them later) pull the movie through the occasional rough spots, and the second half of the film is just about perfect.Another idiotic thing that is often told about "Design For Living" is that Lubitsch and Hecht rewrote Coward due to fear of the censors. In fact, the censors gotta have had a heart attack when they saw "Design," for this is one of the most sexually frank of the pre-Code Hollywood movies; premarital sex, cohabitation, adultery and frigidity are all clearly portrayed-- but, as everytime with Lubitsch, they are implied rather than shown. Lubitsch's trademark door and blackout gags are here, and they are hilarious; again, it's not Noel Coward--it's Lubitsch, the cinema's best comic filmmaker at the peak of his powers.But there's something else here that isn't found in most Lubitsch films, and it comes from Ben Hecht, whose cynical, fast-talking, very American style of writing gives the characters a flavor quite unlike the more Continental wit of Lubitsch's usual heroes. (This is also one of the several Lubitsch movies where the lead characters are American rather than European.) Critics have sometimes complained that Hecht's somewhat inelegant style was unworthy of either Coward or Lubitsch. Again, I disagree; the moments of Hechtian farce (like the hilarious party scene) are beautifully handled by Lubitsch and turn the movie into a forerunner of screwball comedy, the zone where Continental charm and hard-driving Americanism meet.Now to the actors. The "British is Better" attitude of many critics made it inevitable that Lubitsch's American cast would be pilloried. Again, this is not Noel Coward and a Noel Coward style of acting wouldn't work in this context. All the leading users are now quite wonderful: Miriam Hopkins, one of Lubitsch's favourite actresses, has the greatest role and gives a marvelously energetic performance as the flighty, pretentious gratis spirit who tries to substitute art for sex; Gary Cooper is at the height of his youthful charm, with a surprisingly light comic touch and nice teamwork with Fredric March. March, who can often be heavy-handed in movie comedy, is here charming and funny; it's a tribute to Lubitsch that he got such a genial performance out of him. And, of course, there's Edward Everett Horton, one of Hollywood's finest hero actors in one of his finest roles.If you know and love the Noel Coward play, don't expect this film to be a faithful adaptation. Think of it as an original work of comedic art that happens to utilize some of the storyline elements of Coward's play. It's not Noel Coward; it's a splendid romantic farce that, like all nice comedies, has serious themes underneath the fun: Sexual freedom, male vs. female roles in society, art, love, friendship. So see it (if you can; it's not on video, alas). It's not Noel Coward, it's Ernst Lubitsch, and despite the occasional flaws, it's Lubitsch at his best.
Miriam Hopkins finds herself in love with both Gary Cooper and Fredric March (who can blame her?), so she does what any sensible Pre-Code girl would do: she decides to live with both of them!It's a tribute to film audiences of the early 1930s that a sophisticated comedy like Design for Living should a.) Receive produced, and b.) Be a success at the box office. The dumbing down of actual movies means that the delightful innuendo in Design for Living would go over the head of most of today's audience.The key to the Lubitsch Touch was in the excellent timing of physical gestures and the delivery of the lines. Problem in Paradise and Design for Living were the greatest in this respect. Personally, I prefer the lack of melody in Design for Living. I think it dates the movie less than Lubitsch's another efforts.I don't mind that Ben Hecht wrote most of the film's dialog rather than Noel Coward, who wrote the original play. All I know is that the dialog is very very funny and quite naughty, making this the ultimate Pre-Code film.Miriam Hopkins should do no wrong in a Lubitsch film, and her work here is brilliant. She's clever and uncompromisingly honest. Her leading men, Gary Cooper and Fredric March, are both sexy and hilarious. Gary Cooper is a particular revelation, displaying a flair for comedy that is quite unexpected. As Cooper's mate and rival for the affection of Hopkins, March is also very funny, which comes as no surprise after his brilliant parody of John Barrymore in The Royal Family of Broadway (1930).Prepare to laugh yourself silly during what may be the funniest movie ever made.
Clever script, witty dialogue, sexy stars, sophisticated story, deft direction…What more can I say? It's Lubitsch and Paramount at its Pre-Code best! This was other of those "vintage" movies of which you had the possibility of reading a lot about, but before Universal released "The Gary Cooper Collection", where it's included, you had nowhere to watch it. Of course, I purchased promptly the aforementioned set.The picture says the storyline of free-spirited Gilda Farrell, a young lady who works at a Parisian Advertising Agency, managed by that nice seasoned pro, Edward Everett Horton, who by possibility meets on board a train, struggling, penniless, artists George Curtis, a painter (Gary Cooper) and Thomas Chambers, a playwright (Fredric March), in which may be one of the most "risqué" plots of all the Pre-Code Era, dealing openly with the pros and cons of a mènage-a-trois.Miriam Hopkins portrays the deliciously mischievous Gilda, giving a top, tongue-in-cheek performance, looking absolutely pretty and full of glow from within; it's really in her movies directed by Lubitsch that her appeal shines at its most and she looks at her attractive-best.Fredric March is nice too as the "more down-to-earth-but-nevertheless-madly-in-love" playwright, who lives with buddy Gary Cooper in a miserable tenement, until Miriam Hopkins comes in stage and to "the rescue".But the revelation, in my opinion, is Gary Cooper; after seeing him in many of his 1930s films, I feel that I like him greatest in the tons of roles he got to enjoy in those years: a young idealist in "Peter Ibbetson", a sensitive soldier in "A Farewell to Arms", a sophisticated artist in this one, etc. He really was a nice actor from the beginning of his "talkies" career (I haven't seen his Silents, so I cannot give an opinion), showing much skill and depth in his interpretations. In this movie he plays excellently opposite such powerful talents as Miriam Hopkins and Fredric March, absolutely "a la par".In all, a highly enjoyable film. Smart Entertainment. A must.
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