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When Mike Hagen and Marilla Brown marry after a whirlwind romance on the west coast, they return to New York to find that they don't have much in common. She is a clothing designer who lives in a swanky apartment and whose friends are actors, artists and the like. He is a sports writer who likes to go boxing matches and horse races. They clearly love one another and make every effort to be flexible. When a mobster, whom Mike has been accusing of fixing sports events, decides to go after him he must pretend to be out of town and mayhem ensues. Written by
Who would have possibly realized in this bubbly and frothy romantic comedy, behind the scenes was a looming tragedy. While shooting this film with Gregory Peck by day, Lauren Bacall was nursing dying husband Humphrey Bogart. It was quite an ordeal for her.
Fortunately she's called on to be a fashion designer, beautiful and chic and Lauren Bacall can do that in her sleep. I'm sure working on this film took her mind off what she was dealing with at home.
As has been said, this borrows heavily from Woman of the Year. And like in Woman of the Year, the male lead is a sports columnist. He's also doing a bit of crusading journalism going after racketeers in the boxing game. Which, by the way, in real life was also going on, giving Designing Woman a certain current topicality.
Gregory Peck may be reprising Spencer Tracy, but I think he's poaching here on Rock Hudson's territory. Still he does have some good moments as Mike Hagen, sportswriter and would-be Bob Woodward. His best moments are with Dolores Gray, his jilted girlfriend who dumps a plate of ravioli in his lap at a posh restaurant and later in her apartment hiding from Bacall and wrestling with Gray's pink poodle for his shoe which the dog appropriates for a chew toy.
The rest of the cast nicely fills out their roles. Two standouts for me are Mickey Shaughnessy as a punchdrunk ex-pug who is Peck's appointed bodyguard. It seems like Mickey Shaughnessy was in about every good film in the 1950s and worked with everyone. The second is Jack Cole, choreographer who plays a choreographer in a show Bacall is designing costumes for.
We've certainly come a long way from 1957 when you had to hide the fact a character was gay. If Designing Woman was made today Jack Cole would be openly gay and no nonsense about it. Let us say his presence in the mad finale is absolutely crucial to Peck's and Bacall's life and marriage.
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