Thursday, June 7, 2012

Design for Living (1933)

It seems like some of the hullabaloo about this film stems from the fact that it's an infamous pre-code flick, that it's way ahead of its time with its frankness about sexuality. Well, it still seems ahead of its time to me. I've never quite seen a movie like this. It's about an ad-woman in Paris who falls in love with two men at the same time. The two men, both played beautifully by Gary Cooper and Frederic March, are best friends, a pair of ex-pat artists (one a painter and the other a playwright) living in a garret in the Montmartre. She can't choose so they all agree to a quasi menage a trois, one in which sex is not allowed. It's their Design for Living. It fails, of course, because sex naturally becomes involved. Complications ensue and Gilda (Miriam Hopkins) runs off to marry someone else, not because she feels bad about her split affections but because she feels bad about what she is doing to the two best friends. This is the rare romantic comedy in which everyone has chemistry together.

Design for Living was written by Ben Hecht, adapting Noel Coward's play, and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It's very funny, but somehow it's tender as well. It's impossible not to like the threesome and what they represent. There's no moralizing (or not much) about Gilda's inability to choose and her desire to have both men. And you understand her choice; it would be hard to choose. Gary Cooper is utterly gorgeous but Frederic March, while not as good looking, is very charming. Here's all three below. It's available on Criterion.

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