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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
It is obvious from the start that this movie was staged around the costumes. The writing, directing, and acting (except for Gregory Peck) are horrific. Up until the time I saw this film, I had never considered that Lauren Bacall was actually acting, but her performance in Designing Woman is atrocious. It may have been that she was directed to spotlight the costumes -- that can be the only answer to why she flipped around swaying her skirts and otherwise acting like a peahen in the overwhelming number of costumes she wore. Each costume is wonderful, but they simply steal the show! Ms. Bacall's posing -- again, most likely due to the direction and the attempt to highlight the costumes -- is not comic, but concocted. The lines are not light comedy, they are silly.
There are so many instances calling for suspension of unbelief that after about 30 minutes, one cannot ignore them. The one that sticks in the front of my mind is when Peck lets the poodle out of the bedroom where he is hiding from his wife (Bacall) with his shoe in its mouth. Why let it out? Why not at least take the shoe away? The sets are cheap-looking (the doors struck me as having just been stuck there, many opening the wrong way according to most buildings) and the lighting obvious (having the silhouettes on the wall was okay in the dance rehearsal, but it was too much to follow up with silhouettes during the fight scene). The flow of the film is terribly rough, going from scene to scene in metronomic fashion. The fight scene is moronic beyond match, integrating the overused character of the punch-drunk fighter with the irritating character of the choreographer, making the audience wince with embarrassment for everyone involved in the making of this movie.
If you like pretty dresses, watch this film and hit the "mute" button. If you watch it in anticipation of seeing a solid Minelli-Peck-Bacall movie, save your time. It's just not pretty seeing a vulnerable Lauren Bacall at her worst, whether due to the direction or to her now visible weaknesses as an actress. If Minelli were going for a film with near-slapstick comedy, he missed. It is neither slapstick nor comedy!
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