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Friday, January 1, 2010

DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933)


The passing years have only improved this once-knocked reworking of Noel Coward’s (in)famous play. Helmer Ernst Lubitsch made unrivaled romantic-comedies, seasoning them with a tart dose of irony, and his sole collaboration with Ben Hecht (of the rat-a-tat dialogue & bracing sarcastic wit) shouldn’t work, but does. Like the broken typewriter in the story, ‘it rings, it rings!’ The story has Miriam Hopkins turning muse to Coop’s painter (very AndrĂ© Derain) and March’s playwright (veddy Coward), but with no sex allowed. But tumble she does . . . twice. And since she loves them equally, she runs off to marry a stolid fellow with zero sex appeal . . . enter Edward Everett Horton. Can this man be dumped? Can this illicit triangle be saved? And should a girl have to choose between such riches?* Extra points for the opening scene, a ‘meet-cute’ in untranslated French. Coop boasts respectable tourist French, Hopkins rattles away, March keeps quiet. And watch for a particularly hilarious Lubitsch ‘touch’ which plays out over a honeymoon night and reveals an unexpected sexual urge from Everett Horton.

*March was certainly a handsome fellow in ‘33, but when Coop shows up in formal gear with his hair slicked down, it’s as if an entire era of manliness & ravishment has been personified. Devastating.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Ben Hecht wrote a charmingly funny, if suspect, sketch of working with Lubitsch that was included in Herman Weinberg's THE LUBITSCH TOUCH. The book itself is well-meaning, but its scholarship and opinions have dated badly.

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