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Design for Living

Design for Living

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Cast: Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Miriam Hopkins


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Design for Living was based on the stage comedy by Noel Coward, though little of his dialogue actually made it to the screen. Playwright Fredric March and artist Gary Cooper both fall in love with Miriam Hopkins, an American living in Paris.


Design for Living was based on the stage comedy by Noel Coward, though little of his dialogue actually made it to the screen. Playwright Fredric March and artist Gary Cooper both fall in love with Miriam Hopkins, an American living in Paris. Both men love the girl, and the girl can't make up her mind between the two men, so the threesome decide to move in together--strictly platonically, of course. As the men gain in success and prominence, the chasteness of the "menage a trois" begins to be threatened, and soon both March and Cooper clash over Hopkins. She reacts by marrying her wealthy but dull boss (Edward Everett Horton). Miriam is bored to tears until March and Cooper invade one of her husband's stuffy parties and chase the tiresome guests away. Miriam's husband huffily agrees to a divorce, and the girl returns to her unorthodox relationship with her two former suitors. The subtle homosexual implications of the Noel Coward stage original were dissipated by the presence of the aggressively masculine Gary Cooper and Fredric March in the film version of Design for Living. Replacing these implications were the equally subtle but more "mainstream" boudoir innuendos of director Ernst Lubitsch.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
When first released, Design for Living was assailed for the incredible liberties it took in transferring the material from stage to the screen. Indeed, director Ernst Lubitsch and screenwriter Ben Hecht kept only a single line of dialogue from the witty, sparkling Noel Coward comedy -- and that one line was hardly itself distinguished. In other hands, this would have been a recipe for disaster; fortunately, Lubitsch and Hecht were enormous talents themselves, and the film they concocted from the barebones of Coward's play is sharply observed, slightly daffy and a total delight. It's true that Gary Cooper is a little out of place in high-style comedy of this sort; he's a little too "downhome" to pull off some of what is asked of him. Nevertheless, his natural charisma is sufficient to overcome this deficiency, and his innate masculinity is used to interesting effect. On the other hand, Fredric March is right at home, turning in a deliciously comic performance that never takes a false turn. He's matched by Miriam Hopkins, creating some subtly wonderful variations on a madcap theme and proving irresistible in whatever she does. Lubitsch's hand is deft as always, especially in the near-wordless opening and the invasive through-the-windows shot after Tom has left for London. If the play has been coarsened somewhat, the film is still a treat.

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Special Features

"The Clerk," starring Charles Laughton, director Ernst Lubitsch's segment of the 1932 omnibus film If I Had a Million; Selected-scene commentary by film scholar William Paul ; British television production of the play Design for Living from 1964, introduced on camera by playwright Noël Coward; New interview with film scholar and screenwriter Joseph McBride on Lubitsch and screenwriter Ben Hecht's adaptation of the Coward play

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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Fredric March Tom Chambers
Gary Cooper George Curtis
Miriam Hopkins Gilda Farrell
Edward Everett Horton Max Plunkett
Franklin Pangborn Mr. Douglas
Isabel Jewell Lisping Stenographer
Harry Dunkinson Egelbauer
Wyndham Standing Max Plunkett's Butler
Helena Phillips Evans Mrs. Egelbauer
Lionel Belmore Theatre Patron
Thomas Braidon Second Manager
Nora Cecil Tom Chambers' Secretary
Emile Chautard Conductor
Mathilde Comont Heavy Woman
Adrienne D'Ambricourt Cafe Proprietress
Jane Darwell Housekeeper
James Donlan Fat Man
Charles French Theatre Patron
Mary Gordon Theatre Chambermaid
Grace Hayle Woman on Staircase
Olaf Hytten Englishman at Train
Armand Kaliz Mr. Burton
Rolfe Sedan Bed Salesman
Vernon Steele First Manager

Technical Credits
Ernst Lubitsch Director,Producer
Travis Banton Costumes/Costume Designer
Ben Hecht Screenwriter
Hans Dreier Art Director
Nathaniel W. Finston Score Composer
Frances Marsh Editor
Victor Milner Cinematographer


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