The Saturday Night Cinema is Noel Coward's Design for Living, directed by the brilliant and deliciously sly Ernst Lubitsch. The play is more Lubitsch than Coward, and if you are an unabashed Lubitsch fan like me, you're in for a treat. I recently watched "To Be or Not To Be" again and it's as sharp and brilliantly funny as the first time. Actually better after repeated viewings.
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....
"Design for Living" (1933) NY Times Movie Review
Miriam Hopkins, Fredric March and Gary Cooper in a Film Version of 'Design for Living.'
The Ernst Lubitsch-Ben Hecht picture which was inspired by Noel Coward's stage comedy "Design for Living" may be only a skeleton of the parent work, but it has the same familiar rattle. In attacking the problem of translating the play to the screen Mr. Lubitsch was aware of the probability of censorial scowls and the chance that the English author's brilliant dialogue might be a little too lofty for some cinema audiences. Therefore he decided that something unusually drastic would have to be done in making the film. Thus all that which remains of Mr. Coward's manuscript are the title and the theme.
Notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Coward's clever lines were tossed to the four winds and that the whole action of the story is materially changed, Mr. Lubitsch, who knows his motion picture as few others do, has in this offering, which was presented last night at the Criterion, fashioned a most entertaining and highly sophisticated subject, wherein his own sly humor is constantly in evidence. He has been ably aided and abetted by Mr. Hecht in this slaughter of the Coward play, and, if the original was sharper and brisker than the picture, the latter is filled with clever fun and the story, still with a decided Parisian flair, moves along swiftly and surely.
After the highly satisfactory introductory scenes, there comes Paris, with the shabby quarters occupied by George Curtis, who aspires to be an artist, and Thomas Chambers, who hopes to become a playwright. By that time both are enamored of Gilda Farrell, a commercial artist. They squabble about her and then one sees Max Plunkett, head of an advertising concern, who has Gilda's interest so much at heart that he resents the impertinence of the two Lotharios. Having more or less encouraged both George and Tom, Gilda eventually insists that they be just comrades. Gilda is to be Mother of the Arts. She must help them to succeed, which she does through high-powered salesmanship methods. It is she who is largely responsible for getting a London producer to read Tom's play and the dramatist goes to London to attend to the staging of his work.
Gilda and George eventually send word to Tom that they are living together and Tom, whose play turns out to be a great success, later is exasperated at the mere mention of either of their names. Then Tom, after a hurried trip to the French capital while George is absent painting a portrait, turns the tables on the artist, which results in the faithless Gilda deciding to marry Plunkett. But Plunkett is a man who mixes business with romance and it is quite obvious that the attractive Gilda will soon tire of the marital state.
Mr. Lubitsch has worked out his camera ideas with the facility and imagination for which he is famed. He lets the scene speak for itself. Two eggs on a breakfast table tells the story of Tom's visit to Paris. Moreover, Tom appears in a dinner jacket for breakfast and George's none-too-alert mind finally grasps what has happened. The Athos-Porthos-Mlle. d'Artagnan idea persists only so long as the three lived together and Mr. Lubitsch suggests in an artful way that probably they may dwell together as platonic friends after Gilda leaves Plunkett and joins her first loves.
No scene is too short not to deserve the utmost care and thought from Mr. Lubitsch. In the opening incidents he gives some excellent views on board a train, on the station platforms, and finally of the train steaming into a Paris station. It really looks like Paris, and the train looks French in every detail. In another railway-station episode one hears the conductors shouting "En voiture!" and one sees bits of action such as one would see in such a terminal.
Also in the first glimpses, where Gilda encounters George and Tom on the train, the conversation between them is in French—until to their great joy they discover that they are all three Americans.
Miriam Hopkins is the charmer Gilda. She plays her part resourcefully and imbues it with the much desired levity. Fredric March is excellent as Thomas Chambers. He gives an amusing conception of a dramatist at work and later he makes the most of the author in a theatre listening to laughter at his own lines. Gary Cooper lends vigor and naturalness to the rôle of George. His is another capital interpretation. Edward Everett Horton is splendid as Plunkett.
DESIGN FOR LIVING, an adaptation of Noel Coward's stage play; directed by Ernst Lubitsch; a Paramount production. At the Criterion.
Tom Elliot . . . . . Fredric March
George Curtis . . . . . Gary Cooper
Gilda . . . . . Miriam Hopkins
Max Plunkett . . . . . Edward Everett Horton
Mr. Douglas . . . . . Franklyn Pangborn
Lisping Stenographer . . . . . Isabel Jewell
Mr. Egelbauer . . . . . Harry Dunkinson
Mrs. Egelbauer . . . . . Helena Phillips
Housekeeper . . . . . Jane Darwell
Proprietress of cafe . . . . . Adrienne d'Ambricourt
Conductor . . . . . Emile Chautard
Tom's secretary . . . . . Nora Cecil
Gilda's landlady . . . . . Mrs. Treboal
Boy . . . . . George Savidan