Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Design For Living (1933)

“Immorality may be fun, but it isn’t fun enough to take the place of 100% virtue and three square meals a day.” – Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton)

Now we have a bit of pre-Code fun with the 1933 movie Design For Living, starring Fredric March, Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins.

On a train bound for Paris, playwright Tom Chambers (Fredric March) and his painter friend/roommate George Curtis (Gary Cooper) meet commercial artist Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins). They both take a liking to her (and she to them). Her boss and friend, advertising executive Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton), objects to their relationships, but his words fall on deaf ears (well, except Tommy, who borrows a quote for a play he is writing). Tom and George start arguing over Gilda, and she proposes a new arrangement: the three of them live together, with her pushing them to do better in their respective arts, but no sex. In no time at all, she helps Tom get his play in front of a big London theatrical producer, and he has to leave to help with rehearsals. After he leaves, George and Gilda end up breaking the pact (and let Tom know about it). After almost a year of success with his play, Tom comes back, only to find George became enough of a success to have moved in to a more upscale apartment. He also finds Gilda still receptive to him, but George arrives back from a trip early, only to find them together. When the two men start arguing again, she leaves them both, unable to decide between them. She marries Max, who takes her to the U.S., but soon finds herself bored with him.

Design For Living was based on a play written by (and starring) Noel Coward. When Paramount bought the rights, it was given to director Ernst Lubitsch. He brought in writer Ben Hecht to do the screenplay, who ended up changing a lot of things around, and, at most, kept one line of dialogue from the play. Lubitsch wanted Miriam Hopkins for the role of Gilda Farrell right from the start, but had trouble casting the male leads. He wanted Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard, but they were either too expensive or uninterested. Then Fredric March was brought in, along with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (although Fairbanks pulled out when he came down with pneumonia). So Gary Cooper, then mainly known as an action star, was cast. Critics and audiences at the time weren’t kind to the movie, but it has gained in popularity over time.

This is a movie I hadn’t heard of before. I only discovered it when I was looking for movies with Edward Everett Horton in them after I stopped to realize he was one of those actors well represented within my own film collection that I hadn’t been actively trying to collect the films of. Of course, Gary Cooper also starring in it didn’t hurt either, not to mention being directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who has done a few movies I like. So, I finally got the chance to see it, and I really enjoyed it! I’ll admit, it’s the earliest Gary Cooper movie I’ve seen, so I’ve already seen some of his later comedies. So, it was no surprise to me that he handled the comedy well. And, of course, Edward Everett Horton didn’t disappoint, either! The movie is easily full of good comedy and many wonderful and memorable lines! The pre-Code elements certainly make this movie fun, giving us the reverse of the usual situation (just like the movie indicates) with one woman falling in love with two men and trying to figure out which she prefers. The pre-Code elements are relatively tame compared to what would be in most movies of this type today, but I would still be wary of showing this movie to young kids, if only because sex is still enough of a topic in it. Still, I very much enjoyed this comedy, and I would very much recommend it to anybody willing to give it a try!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 32 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Eagle And The Hawk (1933) – Fredric March – Nothing Sacred (1937)

Morocco (1930) – Gary Cooper – Alice In Wonderland (1933)

Fast And Loose (1930) – Miriam Hopkins

Holiday (1930) – Edward Everett Horton – Alice In Wonderland (1933)

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Fly’s Last Flight (1949)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 3 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

Welcome to my new feature on various theatrical shorts! Sometimes my comments will be on shorts included as extras on a disc set I am reviewing, and other times, they will be completely unrelated to the movie being reviewed (and I will try to indicate which). Hope you enjoy!

(Length: 6 minutes, 41 seconds)

A tired Popeye tries to take a nap, but finds it interrupted by many things, particularly a fly. Well, at least this one broke completely with the formula! No Bluto in sight (o Olive, for that matter), and for once, the spinach was used AGAINST Popeye. Not the greatest short ever, but it was fun seeing one that tried to do something a little different!

And stay tuned for more of Coming Up Shorts! featuring more of Popeye (and the eventual post on the entire 1940s Volume 3 set), along with other shorts!

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