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Design for Living (1933)


Though this film version of the literate, witty play by Noel Coward is tame by comparison, the "Lubitsch Touch" is very much in evidence. March, an apprentice playwright, and Cooper, a young painter, meet commercial artist Hopkins on a Paris-bound train, immediately falling in love with her. When she can't decide which one she loves, she creates a "design for living," one where a menage a trois situation takes place. It's all platonic, but March and Cooper begin to show jealousies that lead to nasty confrontations. Hopkins finally gets fed up and marries stuffed shirt Horton, going to NYC with him to settle down. But she is bored to tears within a year and welcomes her two friends who show up at one of Horton's insufferable parties. They literally destroy the place and Hopkins, desperate to rejoin the living, goes back to Paris with March and Cooper on either arm. The Hays Office, which had been established to clean up Hollywood morals, considered the Coward play too risque. Director Lubitsch and scriptwriter Hecht were told to tone down the sexual innuendoes and keep the trio's relationship obscure. As a result the film loses much, but the performances of the principals are faultless and make the effort better than average. This had been an Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine vehicle on the stage, where Coward himself played the other man. Hecht, the enfant terrible of Hollywood, first bristled when he heard the Hays Office decree. Then he shrugged and completely re-wrote Coward's so-called "amoral" dialog, retaining only one line from the original work: "For the good of our immortal souls!" Always the literary elf, Hecht thought it funny to use some of Coward's lines from other plays, "The Vortex" and "Hay Fever," which he worked into the script. Though Coward would appear in the lead of the Hecht-MacArthur film THE SCOUNDREL, Hecht never liked Coward, thought his humor too foreign to the earthy likes of Americans, and that the British playwright was too precious. Some of Hecht's lines tip-toed up to the Hays Office fences and bumped against them: "I haven't got a clean shirt to my name," says Cooper. Replies March: "A clean shirt? What's up? A romance?" Cooper snickers: "I'm not talking pyjamas. Just a clean shirt." Lubitsch worked with Hecht on the script and approved of almost every line, much to the frustration of Hollywood's most successful screenwriter. Hecht later whimsically wrote that "in writing with Mr. Lubitsch on DESIGN FOR LIVING, I was confused by what seemed to be at first glance a sort of manic-depressive psychosis on its upswing. Mr. Lubitsch, when he creates those delicate touches for which he is notorious, has a way of flinging himself around the room like an old-fashioned fancy roller skater. He pirouettes, leaps, claps his ankles together in mid air, screams at the top of his voice, and bursts into tears if contradicted." At one point when Hecht was reading some of his lines to the director, Lubitsch stopped him, asking: "You think that's good?" "Yes, I do," replied Hecht. Said Lubitsch with disgust: "That's the kind of suggestion people send me in the mail."

Country of origin: U.S.
Genre: Comedy; Romance
Color or b/w: Black & white
Production Co(s).: Paramount
Released by: Paramount
MPAA rating: NR
Running time: 90

Fredric March -- Tom Chambers
Gary Cooper -- George Curtis
Miriam Hopkins -- Gilda Farrell
Edward Everett Horton --
Max Plunkett -- Franklin Pangborn
Mr. Douglas -- Isabel Jewell
Lisping Stenographer -- Harry Dunkinson
Mr. Egelbauer -- Helena Phillips Evans
Mrs. Egelbauer -- James Donlan
Fat Man -- Vernon Steele
Manager -- Thomas Braidon
Manager -- Jane Darwell
Housekeeper -- Armand Kaliz
Mr. Burton -- Adrienne d'Ambricourt
Cafe Proprietress -- Wyndham Standing
Max's Butler -- Nora Cecil
Tom's Secretary -- Grace Hayle
Woman on Staircase -- Olaf Hytten
Englishman at Train -- Mary Gordon
Theatre Chambermaid -- Lionel Belmore
Theatre Patron -- Charles K. French
Theatre Patron -- Rolfe Sedan
Bed Salesman -- Mathilde Comont

Producer: Ernst Lubitsch
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Writer: Ben Hecht (based on the play by Noel Coward)
Cinematographer: Victor Milner
Editor: Frances Marsh
Music Composer: Nathaniel Finston
Art Director: Hans Dreier
Costume Design: Travis Banton

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