Friday, January 1, 2021

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR JANUARY ON TCM


Janet (my daughter): "What are you watching?"

Caftan Woman (mother): Design for Living. Ernst Lubitsch from Noel Coward's play. Miriam Hopkins has to choose between Fredric March and Gary Cooper. (pause) Or does she?!

Janet: Ho-ho, ha-ha!


The original Broadway production in 1933, staged by the author Mr. Coward featured the actor with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne had a run of 135 performances. The play was not produced in London until 1939 due to difficulties with the censors. 


The 1984 Broadway revival directed by George C. Scott starring Raul Julia, Jill Clayburgh, and Frank Langella had a run of 245 performances.

The Paramount Pictures film released in 1933 gave us a screenplay by Ben Hecht (Barbary Coast) and Samuel Hoffenstein (Love Me Tonight) directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Victor Milner (The Furies) was the cinematographer and there is a sly soundtrack from uncredited studio stock composer John Leipold. Travis Banton's costumes are to sigh for. 


When commercial artist Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins) meets pretentious artist George Curtis (Gary Cooper) and unpublished playwright Thomas Chambers (Fredric March) aboard a Paris-bound train the attraction is instantaneous. The attraction between Gilda and Tommy, between Tommy and Gilda, and between Gilda and George, and George and Gilda. Circling around this interesting emotional triumvirate is Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton). Max is Gilda's business mentor, a friend of five years standing, and protector. In other words, those of Tommy's, he, Plunkett, never got to first base.


Both Tom and George have professed their love for Gilda and she in return has professed her fondness for the two of them. The friendship between the two artistes abroad has survived 11 years but is in danger of being blown apart by "a little bit of feminine fluff." They determine to treat Gilda with complete nonchalance and to refer to her by Miss Farrell if they refer to her at all.

Gilda has a completely different idea of how to handle their complications. "Well, boys, it's the only thing we can do. Let's forget about sex." ... "I'm going to be a mother of the arts." A gentleman's agreement exists among the three where the boys will work and Gilda will criticize and bully them into success. 


The cock-eyed plan works until Tommy's play opens in London and his absence highlights the "tension" between Gilda and George. They become a couple in the romantic sense, and George becomes a successful artist in the financial sense. Tommy is out in the cold and stews about it for almost a year. Upon returning to Paris and finding George out of town, the "tension" between Gilda and Tommy is highlighted and the morning's light finds them with something to either tell George or not.


Gilda deals with the situation by running away from both fellows. Tommy puts it succintly: "The mother of the arts wants to be a nice girl." What's a girl to do? Well, there is always Max Plunkett, but then there is the issue of the flock of Egelbauers. 


Design for Living
has an excess of wit, a knowing wink at conventions, and the odd piece of broken furniture. It is a polished and satisfying entertainment worthy of being labeled a true comedy classic.


TCM is airing Design for Living on the evening of Thursday, January 7th following two other treats from Ernst Lubitsch, The Smiling Lieutenant with Claudette Colbert and Maurice Chevalier, and Trouble in Paradise with Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, and Kay Francis. A delightful evening's viewing.

NOTE: Possibly due to rights issues, Design for Living will not be shown in Canada. Make Me a Star, 1932 based on the play Merton of the Movies by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly is the substitute.


"The sorrows of life are the joys of art."


















28 comments:

  1. When I first wrote about this movie, I had said I found it hard to believe jealousy wouldn’t be more of an issue than it was, but that was before I understood the Lubitsch Touch. This might be worth revisiting.

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    1. It is easy to understand the issues with the London censor board and just as easy to understand how Lubitsch could take the material and make such a winning movie. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and that "gentleman's agreement" won't be able to keep jealousy out of the equation. The only question is how it will manifest itself.

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  2. I always remember FREDRIC MARCH from THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES where he was paired up with MYRNA LOY. He gave a great performance as did DANA ANDREWS who was overlooked at the ACADEMY AWARDS. VIRGINIA MAYO was also great as the wife to Dana. STEVE COCHRAN had a small part in the movie and RAY TEAL was also in the movie.

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    1. The Best Years of Our Lives was the best movie for everyone involved in its creation.

      Steve Cochran and Virginia Mayo were paired often for Goldwyn.

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  3. One of the movies that I know GARY COOPER from is UNCONQUERED with PAULETTE GODDARD. I saw Paulette in SECOND CHORUS with FRED ASTAIRE and POT O' GOLD with JIMMY STEWART. According to wiki Gary was friends with Fred and Jimmy.

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    1. Unconquered is a DeMille film that I haven't seen yet. It looks like it would be very entertaining.

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  4. Your post is delightful - as is the movie!

    Supposedly Ben Hecht said about his film adaptation that 'Only one line of Coward's remains --see if you can find it.' Reportedly, Noel Coward was not amused...

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    1. The cheek of these writer fellows! I should think that Noel Coward would have had a better comeback than simply stewing in his own disapproval.

      Thanks for the compliment. I must say it is galling to start of the year with another "rights issue" fave. Canadian viewers are going to start to take this sort of thing personally.

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  5. Miriam Hopkins is the luckiest gal in the world in this flick.

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    1. Yeah. It's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it!

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  6. A delightful post. You know how to pick 'em.

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    1. Thanks. It isn't easy to find the upcoming schedule since TCM "improved" their website. I am going to keep this feature going as long as I can.

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  7. I wonder if DAVID NIVEN and GIG YOUNG would have been good in a remake of this movie. Later I remembered that they played brothers in ASK ANY GIRL with SHIRLEY MACLAINE. Do you have any ideas for casting a remake? For the leading lady what do you think of IRENE DUNNE or CLAUDETTE COLBERT?

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    1. Claudette Colbert was in a TV version of Blithe Spirit, so Noel Coward should be a good match for her. David Niven and Gig Young would be interesting. They both have a sly way with their delivery.

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  8. JOHN BENNETT PERRY is 80 today! You may recall him from his ep of DIAGNOSIS MURDER titled MAN OVERBOARD with BRYNN THAYER as his wife. He also did two eps of MURDER, SHE WROTE. I only saw the first one-he played a judge. It also had guest star DACK RAMBO. Dack and John had both been in the primetime soap PAPER DOLLS(84). Dack was paired up with MORGAN FAIRCHILD and played the son to LLOYD BRIDGES. John played the husband to JENNIFER WARREN(who guest starred on M.S.W. at least two times) and the stepfather to a new teen model played by TERRY FERRELL(or FARRELL, I forget the spelling). John also was on FALCON CREST at one time as the sheriff. Back in the day John was quite the attractive fellow!

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    1. Well, happy birthday to John Bennett Perry. My mind flashes back to the rescue show 240 Robert. It didn't last long, but I remember it and I probably have a TV Guide cover in my old scrapbooks in the basement.

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  9. I’ll watch anything by Lubitsch! Plus, this one has the marvelous Edward Everett Horton in a supporting role. What’s there not to like?

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    1. Edward Everett Horton is a magnet. If they want us to watch their movie, they must cast the man.

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    2. I always remember EDWARD EVERETT HORTON from THE GAY DIVORCEE with GINGER ROGERS and FRED ASTAIRE. Also his I LOVE LUCY ep with one of your favorites-the delightful BEA BENADERET.

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    3. From the 1920s, when we couldn't hear him speak, through a variety of delightful movie comedies up to Rocky and Bullwinkle, Edward Everett Horton is a treasure. Completing the circle, I don't believe he had any dialogue in his final film Cold Turkey in 1971.

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  10. ROBERT DUVALL is 90 today! Some of the movies that I know him from are TENDER MERCIES (he won the ACADEMY AWARD), TRUE GRIT with JOHN WAYNE and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD where he had the memorable role of BOO RADLEY. I usually think of TENDER MERCIES first then MOCKINGBIRD but that's the order that I saw them in. He was great in that OSCAR-winning role and also sang really well.

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    1. Duvall is quite a compelling actor and personality.

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  11. I accidentally put the EDWARD EVERETT HORTON comments in the reply section. Speaking of the name HORTON that makes me think of DAYS OF OUR LIVES that MACDONALD CAREY and FRANCES REID had been on. Also MICHAEL HORTON who played GRADY FLETCHER on MURDER, SHE WROTE and PETER HORTON. LINDA HAMILTON said on LARRY KING years ago that one of the magazines(GOOD HOUSEKEEPING maybe) had gotten it wrong when they said she had once been married to Peter Horton.

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  12. I can't believe I STILL have not seen this movie, despite its legendary status. I've determined to finally see it this weekend, and when I do, I'll raise a glass to Ernst Lubitsch and your fab review.

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    1. Thank you so much. I am honoured to be the push that gets you to this movie.

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    2. I just watched it (finally), and you're right about the costumes: fabulous! Some very funny lines, and I think this is now my fave Edward Everett Horton role. Miriam Hopkins is the absolutely perfect choice.

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  13. Some other movies that I have seen FREDRIC MARCH in are A STAR IS BORN, ONE FOOT IN HEAVEN, HOMBRE, THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI and EXECUTIVE SUITE. My favorites are THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and A STAR IS BORN. What are your favorite FREDRIC MARCH movies? I remember that you really like EXECUTIVE SUITE.

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    1. Fredric March was a favourite of both my grandfather and father.

      Yes, I think his performance in Executive Suite is top-notch. Another Part of the Forest and An Act of Murder are two I admirer. They were directed by Michael Gordon, whose grandson is Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

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