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A Delight
capel6 November 2000
Few films 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 play (Ben Hecht, the screenwriter, said: "There's only one line of Coward's left in the picture--see if you can find 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, completely irrelevant; the question is not whether the play 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 movie with little or no music on the soundtrack; previously, in his musicals and his sublime "Trouble In Paradise," he had used background music to cover up potential dead spots and carry the film along. Here there is none of that, with the result that some of the early scenes seem oddly paced. But the wit of the script (written by Hecht but, as always with Lubitsch, carefully supervised and contributed to by the director himself) and the appeal of the performers (more about them later) pull the film through the occasional rough spots, and the second half of the movie is just about perfect.

Another idiotic thing that is often said about "Design For Living" is that Lubitsch and Hecht rewrote Coward due to fear of the censors. In fact, the censors must 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 always 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 greatest 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 few Lubitsch films 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 film into a forerunner of screwball comedy, the place 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 players are actually quite wonderful: Miriam Hopkins, one of Lubitsch's favorite actresses, has the best role and gives a marvelously energetic performance as the flighty, pretentious free 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 great teamwork with Fredric March. March, who can often be heavy-handed in film 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 character actors in one of his finest roles.

If you know and love the Noel Coward play, don't expect this movie to be a faithful adaptation. Think of it as an original work of comedic art that happens to utilize some of the story elements of Coward's play. It's not Noel Coward; it's a splendid romantic farce that, like all great 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.
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Torn between two lovers
reelguy218 November 2004
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 woman would do: she decides to live with both of them!

It's a tribute to movie audiences of the early 1930s that a sophisticated comedy like Design for Living could a.) Get produced, and b.) Be a success at the box office. The dumbing down of current films means that the delicious 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 perfect timing of physical gestures and the delivery of the lines. Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living were the best in this respect. Personally, I prefer the lack of music in Design for Living. I think it dates the film less than Lubitsch's other 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 could do no wrong in a Lubitsch film, and her work here is brilliant. She's intelligent 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 friend 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 film ever made.
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Another Gem from Paramount
fsilva28 June 2005
Intelligent 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 another of those "vintage" films of which you had the chance 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 bought promptly the aforementioned set.

The picture tells the story of free-spirited Gilda Farrell, a young lady who works at a Parisian Advertising Agency, managed by that great seasoned pro, Edward Everett Horton, who by chance 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 beautiful and full of glow from within; it's really in her films directed by Lubitsch that her appeal shines at its most and she looks at her attractive-best.

Fredric March is good 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 scene 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 best in the variety of roles he got to play 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 good 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 film he plays excellently opposite such strong 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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Witty and Sophisticated
kenjha2 September 2007
In this surprisingly risqué film made before the Hays code, two men and a woman share an apartment in Paris and talk openly about sex. It's fun to watch, thanks to the witty and sophisticated dialog of Noel Coward, the screenplay by Ben Hecht, and of course the masterful direction of Lubitsch. March is wonderful as a struggling playwright. Hopkins has one of her best roles as a free-loving woman who loves two men but marries a third. Lubitsch elicits a fine comedic performance from Cooper as a hot-tempered artist. In a typical role, Horton plays a stuffed shirt. There's no music, which could make things seem static, but Lubitsch keeps it moving at a breezy pace.
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Pre Code Elegance
wlawson6017 July 2010
Delightful even if more Ben Hecht than Noel Coward. The "menage a trois" has real brains, wit and magic. All due to the sensational chemistry between Gary Cooper, Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins and, of course, the unmistakable Lubitch touch. I was going to say that the film seems written today but the sad truth is there is nobody today that could write with this extraordinary elegance. Frediric March is masculine and volcanic, Gary Cooper feminine and irresistible and Miriam Hopkins, a sensational modern comedienne. As if this wasn't enough, Edward Everett Horton as Mr Wrong. The scene in which Hopkins compares Cooper and March to hats is one of my all time favorites.
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Gilda, Tom, and George....but not Max
theowinthrop2 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Not all of the plays by Noel Coward have been put on the screen. PRIVATE LIVES was (Robert Montgomery and Norma Shearer). So was BLYTHE SPIRIT (Rex Harrison and Margaret Rutherford). So was CAVALCADE (which actually won the best picture award in 1933 - but did it really deserve it?). HAY FEVER has not popped up, nor PERIOD PIECE, nor SOUTH SEA BUBBLE. And DESIGN FOR LIVING has popped up (the same year CAVALCADE did), but in a bowdlerized version. Still Ernst Lubitsch's DESIGN FOR LIVING was a highly amusing comedy, even if part of the "design for living" was seriously missing.

Tom (Fredric March) is a writer - a dramatist. His closest friend is George (Gary Cooper) an artist. On a train trip they share a compartment with Gilda (Miriam Hopkins), also an artist - but one who works for an advertising firm run by Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton). Both young men are seriously smitten with her, and she fully appreciates them. So they have a dilemma - who would she rather be with. She solves it by making an agreement to live with them as their "muse - den mother". In short she will be keeping them from turning out shoddy work - telling them what she finds is "ROTTEN!!" (Hopkins' pronunciation of that word is quite memorable). She will also continue working for Max. All three find this an agreeable idea, although Max does not. He may be a good businessman himself, but he finds Gilda quite a sexual turn-on too. So Max hates Tom and George.

This odd menage-a-trois cannot work. The three partners are all good looking, and their hormones are active. Soon Gilda runs off with George, leaving a teary note for Tom. He follows, and spends a highly pleasant afternoon with Gilda, until George returns and has a fit. Then she decides to save their friendship by leaving - and accepting Max's businesslike proposal of marriage. Tom and George go on a long foreign trip, missing Gilda's wedding. Max and Gilda go to a four star hotel, enter the bridal sweet, and shortly afterward Max realizes that he is missing the honey moon!

Still, Max can always hope. Gilda is plenty willing to be a good sport and help build up his business. When entertaining important clients like Mr. and Mrs. Egelbauer (the cement king), Gilda will willingly (if haltingly) lead the stuffy guests in a pleasant parlor game of "Twenty - Questions" (Hopkins reluctant sounding, "Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?" at the start is heart-breaking). But Tom and George return to free her spirit from durance vile. And Max...he is reminded that the Egelbauers of the world never cared for Gilda, so when he announces his divorce it will double or triple his business.

When Noel Coward wrote DESIGN FOR LIVING, in 1930-31, he did plan for it to be performed with his friends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontane. Lunt and Fontane were the leading "married couple" stars of the American theater at that time. People in the know realized that Lunt was gay and (rumor had it) Fontane was a lesbian, but the marriage worked because of mutual artistic respect and partnership (oddly enough not so much in film - only one movie, THE GUARDSMAN - but in stage work and later television). With this in mind, Coward actually constructed the menage-a-trois of the play to be two bi-sexual men and the woman they jointly love. The bi-sexuality of Tom and George is not really developed in this film (Lubitsch would not have minded putting it in, but the powers that were at Paramount would have had fits). If you think of the central situation, though, and Gilda's reluctance to split the two "boys" there is a trace of Coward's original idea there.

The odd man out here is Max. It's ironic that Horton played Max, for in real life he was gay (Cooper was notorious, despite his marriage, for affairs with Marlene Dietrch, Patricia Neal, and several other women; although March had a long marriage to Florence Eldritch, he had a reputation as being a real "letch"). Horton's Max is quite sympathetic, despite his self-importance and no-nonsense view of things. He does have one of the most memorable moments in "Lubitsch Touch" cinema, when we see him and Hopkins go into the bed chamber on their wedding night. There is a long pause to represent a sizable passage of time. Then a disgruntled Max leaves the bed-room (obviously he has not gotten anything), spots a floral gift from "the boys", and kicks it viciously!

Max does one other thing that I find endearing - unintentionally he gives a good line of dialog ("Immorality may be fun, but....") to Tom, who sees what a good line of dialog it is. Subsequently, while attending Tom's smash comedy, Max is amazed to hear the line sprouted by a pompous figure on stage. More reason to hate Tom there!
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Delicacy is the banana peel under the feet of truth.
constancepetersen9 September 2002
This was one of the movies I was so sure was going to be stupid and annoying but it turned out to be such fine comedy I've already watched it three times in the past week or two. So many good lines. Tom writes a play called Goodnight Bassington - a comedy in about three acts with a tragic ending. George paints Lady Godiva on a bicycle, despite the fact that a bicycle seat IS a little hard on her historical background. Gilda says that she went to see the above-mentioned painting of Lady Godiva with a friend. "She loved it. We haven't spoken since," Gilda tells George, who begins to pout. He does a fair amount of pouting throughout the film.

Eaglebauer also makes for some fine humour in some scenes near the end, but we never get to see the man. We only hear him bellowing out a joyous song about "falling leaves and fading trees! Goodbye, summer, goodbye!"

But besides all that this really wacky movie is a delight and I sure wish they'd re-release it because it's so good.

So. There's only one thing I have to say to you. Immorality may be fun, but it's not fun enough to replace one hundred per cent virtue and three square meals a day.
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Nice touch!
fdraskolnikov18 September 2006
I bought the Gary Cooper collection because of "Design for Living". It didn't disappoint me. This movie is classy, it's full of wit and sexually free. I found the plot intriguing, the set excellent, the costumes fine and Lubitsch inspired together with Ben Hecht (lovely and smart screenplay).

The movie shows 4 actors only, which could be considered its strength if the actors were all good. 1 out of 4 is good and 2 out of 4 are really good. 1 out of 4 has got nothing to do with such environments, dialogs and sophisticated comedy. Gary Cooper does not fit to me. He's a sort of amazing good looking and so dashing statue to look at. Nothing more. He just doesn't look comfortable in acting spoiling intellectual shades. He doesn't work to me.

Miriam Hopkins is good, she's mischievous, charming and funny. She plays the free woman with intelligence, combining sensuality and brain. Audience - even the male one - does understand why she can't choose between the two guys and she conquers it. Every woman would like to be her; that's the message she strongly brought on the screen: being free of living life the way she desires.

Edward Everett Horton is perfect, hilarious and very elegant. He's the right choice to play Plunkett Inc. and he didn't let it down. He IS Plunkett Inc.!

Fredric March is so charming, sophisticated, sexy and so right for Thomas. He does much better here than in other movies (e.g. Anna Karenina) which could seem more suitable for him. He's perfect for Lubitsch so much and his performance is a top one. He's a fine comedian too, he's measured and passionate at the same time and he's really handsome. His sensuality is made up either by intellectual attitude or a physical one.

Don't know why he's been forgotten, a wonderful actor like he is. Can anybody tell me?

I do suggest to get this movie and to enjoy it since it's really a nice touch in our collection. We do need nice and elegant touches. Especially nowadays.
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Chic, sexy, and swell
Handlinghandel16 May 2003
I'm not a big fan of the Lubitsch Touch. This, which I hadn't seen in 20 years, I think is my favorite.

The recent Broadway revival of the Noel Coward play, which was supposedly very ooh-la-la and daring, was a bust. Interminable and misguided.

One problem was that the female lead was made very cold. In the movie, Miriam Hopkins is just right: pretty, seductive, witty.

Gary Cooper is sublime. He was a great comedian -- equally good in "Desire," the delightful movie with Dietrich that Lubitsch produced and supposedly had a big hand in directing. Too bad he changed gears so drastically and became the strong, silent Western hero he's known for today (if he's known at all, alas.)

Fredric March was a very fine actor but not a comedian. He is the weakest link; but he works well in the ensemble.

Edward Everett Horton is funny, as always.

It really works, and is as racy today as it must have been when it came out.
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choosing between March and Cooper
blanche-220 June 2012
For me, of course, there would be no choice. A young Gary Cooper - talk about a dream walking.

Noel Coward's "Design for Living" was a play Coward wrote for himself and Lunt and Fontanne to star in, concerning a woman, Gilda, who can't decide between two young men and best friends in love with her, Tom and George. So the three decide to live together platonically. Tom leaves to work on his play, and while he's away, George and Gilda sleep together. Later on, alone with Tom, she sleeps with him, and George catches them together. Then Gilda makes a decision.

Only one line from the original play was retained for the film. Though it is precode, the sex is inferred. Given the Lubitsch touch, it's a delightful, sexy comedy with pretty Miriam Hopkins as the winsome Gilda, Fredric March as Tom, a playwright, and Gary Cooper as George, an artist.

The three young, attractive actors under Lubitsch's direction really make the film and situation sing.

March was never much for comedy, though he does an okay job. Hopkins was a wonderful actress with many Broadway credits before getting into films, and Cooper was just so darned gorgeous I have no idea how he was except my impression is that he was very good. Had I been Hopkins - no choice! A charming film.
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Caz196410 April 2006
This really is a great movie from 1933 and very ahead of its time.A young woman who is in love with two friends and is obviously sleeping with both of them must have shocked a more prudish audience back then i think it had been censored for a while.But never mind we can view it today knowing that there are a lot of gems like this one waiting to be rediscovered,its a shame that so many of the films made from this era are now lost.A modern audience wouldn't turn away from this film,as you don't expect a film from this era to be saucy and it is.Gary Cooper was a very nice actor and you can see why he was so popular back then,he had a very unusual style of being very masculine and at the same time very sensitive,he was great at picking the more complex roles,his characters weren't as one dimensional as most actors of this era.He was easily one of the most interesting actors of the 30s,this i would say was his best era in films.Unfortunately A Farewell To Arms is the only film you can buy in the UK from this era,i don't know why.Its sad that he is becoming a forgotten actor,i think we must have lost our imaginations a bit as we keep harbouring on with the John Waynes and the Cary Grants,and forget there were other classic actors around that don't deserve to be forgotten yet.
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Three's Company
wes-connors15 May 2010
On a train to Paris, playwright Fredric March (as Thomas "Tom" B. Chambers) and his painter friend Gary Cooper (as George Curtis) are interrupted while snoozing by attractive blonde Miriam Hopkins (as Gilda Farrell). A commercial artist, Ms. Hopkins banters with her fellow Americans about art, then goes to work for her virtuous boss, Edward Everett Horton (as Max Plunkett). Mr. Horton doesn't approve when Hopkins begins dating both Mr. March and Mr. Cooper. Horton has known Hopkins five years, and hasn't made it "to first base," but her new friends get Hopkins there quickly.

Roommates eleven years, March and Cooper both fall in love with Hopkins. "Curious to have a little bit of feminine fluff breaking up our friendship," March tells Copper. The bed in the men's apartment seems to have collected a lot of dust (watch as Hopkins throws herself on it). Hopkins says she loves both men. Since they all like each other, the three decide to live together, to "concentrate on work" and make "a gentlemen's agreement" to "forget sex." But, when March or Cooper leaves Hopkins alone with the other, abstinence becomes difficult. Moreover, Hopkins reminds the men, "I am no gentleman."

This Noel Coward play was dramatically altered, by writer Ben Hecht, for director Ernst Lubitsch and Paramount. Great credentials, but something was lost in the translation. "Design for Living" intends to be a modern, sexy comedy. Looking back on it, you can appreciate what they were attempting with Hopkins' character. But, despite Mr. Lubitsch's clever opening, there isn't much "chemistry" between Hopkins and her leading men. And, despite Mr. Hecht's clever writing about their laundry, long-time roommates March and Cooper have no screen rapport. Though good, the film doesn't add up.

***** Design for Living (12/29/33) Ernst Lubitsch ~ Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Miriam Hopkins, Edward Everett Horton
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Ooh la la.
FilmSnobby9 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Pretty good company, here: Ernst Lubitsch directing a Ben Hecht adaptation of a Noel Coward play starring Gary Cooper, Frederic March, Miriam Hopkins, and Edward Everett Horton. This wicked crew just barely sneaked *Design for Living* past the Production Code before it clamped down and sterilized the mainstream studio productions of Old Hollywood. Of course, modern audiences must take the word of obsessive cinephiles like myself when we tell you that this movie was once considered wildly indecent. Lubitsch's suggestive fade-outs and closing doors will appear as antiquated as 19th-century daguerreotypes next to the modern standard of painstakingly photographed aerobic coitus. For that matter, the notion of a woman simultaneously enjoying the favors of two handsome young men seems rather passé. Only antiquarians will watch *Design for Living* for its titillating sexual dynamics.

More relevant for the typical movie-lover is the wittiness of the script, which gets increasingly wittier as the movie wears on. Which is to say, the film IS a bit diagrammatic and stilted during the first act: two American bohemians in Paris (Cooper as -- get this -- a modernist painter, and March as an aspiring playwright) meet-cute with a fellow American art lover (Hopkins) on a train. She works at an ad agency in Paris managed by Edward Everett Horton, who, having failed to get to first base with the ripe young tomato, has resigned himself to act as her ersatz-guardian. The first twenty minutes of the movie are too stage-bound, but once we're fully introduced to the players and their circumstances, the script starts to take off. Whereas Noel Coward's original play seemed scandalous because it was about two not-so-in-the-closet homosexual artistes living with a hot broad in a Paris walk-up tenement, Ben Hecht's adaptation seemed scandalous in an entirely different manner: he re-fashioned it into a story about two clearly heterosexual artistes taking turns hiding the salami with a hot broad in a Paris walk-up tenement. In the meantime, the one-liners roll down the assembly-line with gathering force. Hopkins -- "I know we had a gentlemen's agreement, but I'm not a gentleman" (saying this to Cooper while lying provocatively on a couch); March -- "Delicacy is the banana-peel under the feet of Truth"; Cooper -- "Let's drink to smallpox", to which March adds, "In Latin, Variola Cocca!" You get the idea.

In the direction department, Lubitsch finds some surprising breathing-room for his camera. Never held hostage by the witty banter, he's always finding a way to tell his story visually. An unremarkable, but typical, example is when Cooper runs out of his swanky new apartment to retrieve a note from Hopkins which he had angrily tossed out the window: Lubitsch makes sure that when Cooper picks up the note, it's a truly exterior shot -- no mattes. And of course, the director fiddles around with things like subjective perspective, close-ups, zooms, out-of-focus fades, and so on.

In the acting department, Hopkins and Horton are the winners. Cooper is, of course, terribly miscast as a bohemian painter, and Frederic March just wasn't a comedian. Both of the male leads seem intimidated by the fantastically arch and very funny things that they're supposed to utter. Put it this way: they're not nearly as confident as their director with this material.

Which, by the way, doesn't reach the level of sublimity attained by Lubitsch's prior film, *Trouble in Paradise*. But *Design for Living* will definitely do. You can now see it on the new DVD compilation, "The Gary Cooper Collection", from Universal. Part 1 of a series, one hopes.

7 stars out of 10.
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Sex for sophisticates, or for people who happen to like each other a lot
Terrell-412 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
There's no doubt about what's going on in Design for Living, a delightful high comedy about a ménage a trois, written by Noel Coward as rewritten by Ben Hecht and directed by Max Lubitsch…and it's not hanky panky. No, it's just joyous, straight-forward sex.

When two artists, the painter George Curtis (Gary Cooper) and the playwright Tom Chambers (Fredric March), encounter Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins) on the train to Paris, their 11-year friendship is going to be intriguingly tested. Gilda (with a soft "g") captures them both, and she reciprocates but can't choose. And why should she? She moves in with them. There's only one solution, however, to the inevitable problem. "Boys," she tells them "it's the only thing we can do. Let's forget sex." And with that, of course, neither they nor we can.

Ben Hecht often bragged that only one line of Coward's survived in his screenplay. All I know is that Hecht's words are some of the finest and funniest, as well as the most amusingly realistic, you're likely to find in a high-gloss Hollywood comedy. The movie just barely got in under the wire before the Production Code began to enforce the prude's code of morality on America. Lubitsch and Hecht create a sophisticated world in which going to bed with someone you like is as natural as…well, going to bed with someone you like. There's no leering or innuendo in the movie, just a reliance on the sophistication of the audience. For instance, Gilda explains to Tom and George the differences between how men and women sort things out. "You see," she tells them, "a man can meet two, three or four women and fall in love with all of them, and then, by a process of interesting elimination, he is able to decide which he prefers. But a woman must decide purely on instinct, guesswork, if she wants to be considered nice." The point we're aware of with a smile is that Gilda not only is nice, but smart, and that she's already tested the waters with each of them.

We start the movie with a ménage a trois, but one which turns into a duet with George and then a duet with Tom. After some encounters with business versus art, we all come to our senses and enjoy the sight of Gilda, George and Tom reunited in New York with a plan in mind. "Now we'll have some fun," Gilda says happily. "Back to Paris!" I have a feeling that forgetting sex won't be part of the plan for long.

The frisson of a bi-sexual ménage a trois is substantially toned down by Lubitsch and Hecht. While it wasn't explicit in Coward's stage play, one would have to be deaf and blind not to get the subtext, especially with Coward and Alfred Lunt as the two male leads when the play opened. In the movie, however, this just becomes casual speculation, especially with Gary Cooper and Fredric March in the roles. Cooper manages not to embarrass himself in this highly polished comedy of sex and style, but it's clear that what works in Cooper's favor are his looks, not his line delivery or body language. March and Hopkins, however, are completely at ease and are a joy to watch.

Hollywood wouldn't make movies this adult and amusing until the Fifties, and even then the level of sophistication and respect for the audience, in my opinion, never fully recovered. Every now and then it's possible to come across in pre-Code Hollywood films of such mature pleasure you hope others will like them, too. Says one character in Design for Living, "Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of 100 per cent virtue and three square meals a day." How wrong he was…and is.
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Movie Odyssey Review #098: Design for Living
Cyke25 May 2008
098: Design for Living (1933) - released 12/29/1933, viewed 6/28/07.

DOUG: We reach the end of 1933 at long last, and an excellent finish it is with a highly underrated comedy starring Miriam Hopkins, Gary Cooper, and Fredrich March. If you're looking for great comedies from the 30's and you've already gone through the Marx Brothers, just do a search for "Ernst Lubitsch" and go nuts. A lot of movies from this period date themselves, but somehow Lubitsch's films hold up, with a combination of great writing and great comedic acting that it seems only Lubitsch can bring out. The three leads, Hopkins, Cooper, and March, play characters that you would love to hang out with, people who are witty and cool, inspired, and love to trade quips and barbs with each other with complete honesty. Everybody is just a little bit crazy in that fun, charming, sexy kind of way that Lubitsch does so well. The dialogue is so crisp and so funny. You just don't hear the word "sex" spoken very often in the 30's, so that when you do hear it, as you will several times in this film, it's a little jarring (but in a good way). Also props go out to Everett Van Horten (also from Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise) as the straight man who just can't understand this gang.

KEVIN: Wow. Why isn't this movie a classic? Because it is in my book. One of the most enjoyable movies of the year, or next year, or the entire decade I expect, is the hilarious and endlessly quotable Design for Living, directed by Ernst Lubitsch from a play by Noel Coward, starring Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and the always fantastic Miriam Hopkins. There are so few movies I've seen where nearly every line of dialogue is either a joke or is a set up for a joke. Lubitsch and Ben Hecht's fine-tuning of Coward's play brings out an incredible energy that proves Lubitsch's skill not just for silent moments, but great dialogue as well. The three leads give enormously likable standout performances as three struggling artists (two guys and a girl) in star-crossed love, who pour that energy of love into their work. They find success, but it's the emotional companionship that trumps it all. What I love about the story is that these three individuals are all-around good people and whatever happens to them, we really hope that they work it out.

Last film: Sons of the Desert (1933). Next film viewed: Wings (1927). Next film chronologically: It Happened One Night (1934).
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Sexy Pre-Code Hollywood Movie
claudio_carvalho2 May 2015
While traveling through France, the playwright Thomas B. 'Tom' Chambers (Fredric March) and his best friend, the painter George Curtis (Gary Cooper) meet Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins) and they fall in love with her. Gilda is "protected" by the wealthy Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton) and Tom and George are losers, but she cannot decide between them who could be her boyfriend. So she proposes a gentleman's agreement where they would be friends without having sex. She decides to criticize their works and they become successful. But will their platonic relationship work?

"Design for Living" is a movie with a female character ahead of time. Actually the sexy story is a Pre-Code Hollywood that became effective 01 July 1934. The plot has sexual freedom, adultery and even a possible threesome but is naive in the present days. There are many funny situations and this movie is a delightful entertaining. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil) "Sócios no Amor" ("Partners in Love")
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what a fabulous little masterpiece.
brianskeet20 December 2008
I have recently married the most gorgeous man ever. I have corrupted him by encouraging him to drink absinthe and fall in love with jean Arthur and Norma shearer.

one of his favourite seduction was the Robert Montgomery- Norma shearer "private lives" but tonight...

but tonight we shared our very own discovery. the Lubitch masterpiece 'DESIGN FOR LIVING'

I had never seen it, but I know that there is no coward only Hetch, but who cares?

it is a wonderful film with wondrous performances and a classic in so many ways.

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Edward Everett Horton Good But Film Mediocre
holdencopywriting15 June 2006
I found this film disappointing and, on the whole, unfunny. I expected it to be full of Noel Coward-type witty lines and it wasn't. The so-called double-entendres in this film were ponderous and far from delicious, in my opinion. Fredric March turns in an adequate performance but Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins are embarrassingly bad, in my opinion. Cooper is, as always, a breathtakingly beautiful man but he spends a great deal of this film striking "attitudes" and pursing and pouting his lips in a way I've never seen him do in any other movie. He seemed amateurish and high-school drama star to me. Hopkins also strikes "attitudes" and she often poses dramatically as she stares off into the distance and speaks rather ponderous and unfunny speeches. The best performance in the film is given by Edward Everett Horton as the square successful advertising man. Horton is a favorite of mine and I was pleasantly surprised to see him efface his usual and stock effeminate mannerisms and exaggerated double-takes. He's very believable as a staid middle-aged heterosexual man. I enjoyed his character and performance very much. However, the rest of the actors and the script don't live up to him.
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Wow, what a talented ensemble here in a very Pre-Code film.
MartinHafer27 July 2009
Wow, look at the folks in this film--Frederic March and Gary Cooper in an Ernst Lubitsch film! You certainly would expect a lot from such a film. Well, although some might strongly disagree, but despite these actors and Lubitsch teaming together, this is not one of the director's better films. The problem is that the love triangle in the story prevents this from being a legitimate love story--something seem in most Lubitsch films.

The film beings in Paris with March and Cooper living together in a cheap apartment. They are struggling artists, with March trying to become a successful playwright and Cooper trying to become a great painter. Into their struggle comes Miriam Hopkins, who has fallen in love with both they guys--and vice-versa. However, to preserve the friendship, they promise a "sex-free" friendship. The presence of Hopkins is a two-edged sword. On one hand, she encourages both men to be better at their craft and is responsible for working behind the scenes to be them recognized. On the other, there is strong sexual tension and ultimately this pulls the friendship apart. Can they work through this or will they each end up miserable...and frustrated? This film never could have been made a year later once the Production Code was revised and strengthened, as the notion of a three-some (even a non-sexual one) became strictly was the liberal use of the word 'sex'. However, despite all this, the film really is mostly tease without a whole lot of action--though there is some implied sex (such as when March spent the night and was having breakfast with Hopkins halfway through the film).

Sadly, however, despite some interesting sexual dynamics and good acting, the scrip just never paid off that much. Now it wasn't a bad film, but more like a film by a great director that is only very good. The so-called "Lubitsch touch" just wasn't that obvious. Yes, there was comedy but the romantic spark just never arrives. A nice but not especially wonderful film. Frankly, everyone in the film has done better work.
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A Subject And A Title
bkoganbing20 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Design For Living is one work that definitely deserves another film version if for no other reason than to finally give the movie-going public what Noel Coward's vision in 1933 really was. All we got from this film is a title and the idea of a play about a menange a trois. Noel Coward said that one line of his dialog also got into this film. No wonder he had such an aversion to Hollywood.

Gary Cooper artist and Fredric March playwright are roommates and both unsuccessful commercially at their art. One day they meet another artist on the train who sketches them while they're taking a snooze and said artist Miriam Hopkins is taken with both of them. In fact so taken that she can't make up her mind which one she really prefers. The easy solution is take both of them and she does, though the relationship is most platonic. But men will be men and hormones will do their nasty work.

For a little stability in her life Hopkins takes up with Edward Everett Horton and stability he brings her with the side efrect of dull. Even a platonic thing with March and Cooper is better than marriage with Horton. Nevertheless his fuss budget character is probably the best thing about this film version of Design For Living. Lubitsch's best touch in this film is Horton going through his file cabinet and finding his marriage contract under "M" past maintenance bill and masking tape or something like that. Tells you all you know about Horton's priorities and his business like approach to marriage.

If Ernst Lubitsch had directed a faithful version of Design For Living with Noel Coward it probably would be a classic. Coward's wit needs all the preserving it can get. With March and Cooper you got a pair of Hollywood's best leading men who did good with the antiseptic script they got.

Another version of Design For Living will contain more than subject idea and a title. Somebody out there start casting for a remake.
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MOscarbradley7 February 2018
With a screenplay by Ben Hecht, direction from the great Ernst Lubitsch and impeccable performances from Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Miriam Hopkins and Edward Everett Horton "Design for Living" is a joy from start to finish. It is, of course, an adaptation of the play by Noel Coward and it's better than the original. A romantic comedy, a sex comedy, it has a sophistication that only Lubitsch could give it and the American cast actually add a dimension that Coward's brittle Britishness lacked. Fans love it but in the Lubitsch canon it isn't that well know. It really shouldn't be missed.
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Design for Living was a nice surprise of a classic I recently discovered!
tavm25 November 2014
I watched this movie on Disc 1 of the Gary Cooper collection DVD set I ordered from Netflix. This was a wonderful surprise of a movie I barely heard of though, of course, I know of the reputation of its director, Ernst Lubitsch. Adapted from Noel Coward's play but fully rewritten by Ben Hecht, this was a hilarious tale of a menage-a-trios between Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and Mariam Hopkins, three Americans living in Paris. Hopkins works for Edward Everett Horton who fancies her himself but rarely gets anywhere with her until...I'll stop there and just say that I loved every minute of it with those witty lines and occasional visual touches. Really, all I'll say now is Design for Living is such a joy to watch!
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Just a great one.
musicjune-957-11533712 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Sure it's great. A fun movie with a grand script and funny refreshing silly dialog. Wonderful actors who are really having a good time and keep in mind that Edward Horton was a very well known swish but very much well liked and respected. Coop and Fred March and Miriam Hopkins most assuredly knew this at the time and that,to me, makes their vocal interplay all the more delightful. This flick is pre-code and keeping this in mind makes this movie even more interesting. Noel Coward was a great one also and a true fag. Miriam Hopkins is beautiful and when you put it all together you've got to love this one as I hope you all will and should.
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Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.
strong-122-47888526 July 2015
This pre-code, 1930's, Screwball comedy (which was adapted from Noel Coward's stage play) was, for me, the absolute nadir of very-very-very tacky taste.

This film was a perfect example of a two-faced Hollywood trying to be oh-so sophisticated, yet, at the same time, riding the fence when it came to such a daring bit of subject matter as whorish, promiscuous sex.

What I'm talking about here is this - Even though the Gilda Farrell character was clearly nothing but a 3-timing slut, and a bigamist bitch, as well (who actually played 2 best friends against each other), this film's story went well out of its way to paint this despicable tramp (and her activities) as being so coy, so innocent, so cute, and yes, so dignified, to boot.

But, if you ask me, I think this witch was absolutely contemptible (not cute) the way she rubbed the men's faces right into the dirt. And the most sickening part of all of this was that these guys just kept coming for more of the same crappy treatment, as though Gilda was the be-all and end-all of women.

Considering that this film is now 82 years old, I really did try to cut it some slack, but as its story quickly progressed into the revolting scenario that I've described above, I was left with no choice but to give it a 1-star rating..... And, that's that!
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I loved this movie because it's about me
globalwisdom6 November 2007
I first heard Noel Coward's play as a radio drama on our local listener-supported radio station, and I immediately started searching for anything I could find out about it. When I found the movie, I was overjoyed.

This movie provides a sympathetic portrait of a lifestyle that is the true orientation for many people. However, most of these people cannot come out of the closet in our society. It is very refreshing to watch a movie about a triad that does not end in disaster.

I have identified as polyamorous all my life--even before the word was coined in 1990. It is hard having an "outlaw" relationship orientation, because most people who hear of it misunderstand it. (It's not about lots of sex, for instance. My favorite time in my life was when I was the second male in a triad, a very rich and satisfying life.)

Anyone reading this who is in the closet and wants serious information about the polyamorous lifestyle can Google the word "polyamory" for more links than you'll be able to read in a year. However, I recommend the following as the best places to start:

Two organizations that have provided guidance and information for years to this movement are the World Polyamory Association and Loving More Magazine.

For a historical review of how this lifestyle has fared in a mostly hostile climate throughout history, read: Three in Love: Menages a Trois from Ancient to Modern Times by Barbara M. Foster, Michael Foster, Letha Hadady. The three authors of this book are a triad that has been together for almost three decades.
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