Design for Living (1933)

Tom Chambers (Fredric March) and George Curtis (Gary Cooper) are a couple of artistic best friends.  Tom is a playwright and George is a painter.  They may not be rich, but they’re happy living together in their dingy apartment.  But all that changes when they meet Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins), an artist working for an advertising agency, on a train trip.  She immediately hits it off with both of them and the duo becomes a trio.  However, Tom and George both fall in love with Gilda and Gilda loves both of them back.  When Tom and George realize this, they agree to try to forget about Gilda, but that doesn’t last long.  The thing is, Gilda can’t decide who she loves more so she suggests that she move in with both of them so she can make up her mind.

When Gilda moves in, she helps the guys out by criticizing their work and inspiring them to be more creative.  She takes one of Tom’s plays and gives it to a producer, who agrees to produce it in London.  While in London, just as Tom is dictating a letter to Gilda and George about how much he’s looking forward to seeing them again, he gets word that Gilda has chosen George over him.  Even though Tom is heartbroken, his play goes on to become a huge success.  One night, he runs into Gilda’s former employer and wannabe lover Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton), who tells Tom that George has become a successful painter.  Tom goes to Paris to see George, only to find he has moved to a swanky penthouse and that George is out-of-town working on a portrait.  He’s told he can talk to George’s secretary, who turns out to be Gilda.  Gilda and Tom quickly rekindle their romance and he spends the night at their place.  They are quite surprised when George returns a few days earlier than expected and immediately figures out what happened and throws both of them out.  But before Tom and Gilda can leave, she writes each of them a farewell letter and runs off to marry Max.

With Gilda out of the picture, Tom and George become good friends again.  However, once Gilda is married, she loathes having to entertain Max’s clients and playing inane party games.  The night Max is having a very important party for his clients, Tom and George decide to crash the party and hide up in Gilda’s bedroom.  When she escapes from the party and finds them there, the three of them have a great time telling stories and laughing.  After Max comes in and finds them, he throws them out, but they just go downstairs and start a big fight with the guests.  Gilda decides to leave Max and heads out with Tom and George to resume their old lifestyle.

I adored Design for Living!  Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Miriam Hopkins had real chemistry together, they were absolutely delightful to watch.  With Gary Cooper and Fredric March both at their most handsome, who can blame Miriam Hopkins for having a hard time choosing between the two?  The writing is smart, witty, and sophisticated, even if it was drastically rewritten from the original Noel Coward play.  Only one line from the original play made its way into the movie.  And with Ernst Lubitsch in the director’s chair, it’s got that infamous sleek, stylish touch.  I loved everything about it.  If you’ve never seen it before, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for the nice write-up. I very much agree with you that Design For Living is a wonderful film. Not sure why the Ernst Lubitsch crowd is so dismissive of it. Works on every level, as far as I’m concerned.

    1. I really don’t get it, either. I wouldn’t call it Lubitsch’s best movie, but he set the bar so high that even if he didn’t quite reach the same level as Ninotchka or The Shop Around the Corner, he’d still get a pretty darn good movie.

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