Review: ‘Design for Living’

Ben Hecht's screen treatment has transmuted Noel Coward's idea better than Coward's original play. It's a competent job in every respect. What matter it - or perhaps it does - if Hecht threw Coward's manuscript out the window and set about writing a brand new play? The dialog is less lofty, less epigramatic, less artificial. There's more reality.

Ben Hecht’s screen treatment has transmuted Noel Coward’s idea better than Coward’s original play. It’s a competent job in every respect. What matter it – or perhaps it does – if Hecht threw Coward’s manuscript out the window and set about writing a brand new play? The dialog is less lofty, less epigramatic, less artificial. There’s more reality.

Coward, of course, has contributed a basic premise that’s arresting – a girl and two men all of whom are very fond of each other. Edward Everett Horton, as the patient mentor of the girl (or, as the dialog puts it, ‘in other words, you never got to first base’), is built up here, as much by the script as his own personal histrionic dominance.

Miriam Hopkins’ expert handling of the delicate premise which motivates the other three men is a consummate performance in every respect. She glosses over the dirt, but gets the punch over none the less. She confesses quite naively she is stumped – she likes both Tom and George (Fredric March and Gary Cooper).

Hecht patterns Cooper to a rugged chapeau and March to a more formal top-piece, and Hopkins interprets her reactions in relation to wearing one type of hat or another with the shifting moods.

Design for Living

Production

Paramount. Director Ernst Lubitsch; Producer Ernst Lubitsch; Screenplay Ben Hecht; Camera Victor Milner; Editor Francis Marsh

Crew

(B&W) Available on DVD. Extract of a review from 1933. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Fredric March Gary Cooper Miriam Hopkins Edward Everett Horton Franklin Pangborn Isabel Jewell
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