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Design for Living (Criterion Collection)

4.4 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Gary Cooper (High Noon), Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives), and Miriam Hopkins (Trouble in Paradise) play a trio of Americans in Paris who enter into a very adult “gentleman’s” agreement, in this continental pre-Code comedy freely adapted by Ben Hecht (Notorious) from a play by Noël Coward (Brief Encounter), and directed by Ernst Lubitsch (Trouble in Paradise). A risqué relationship comedy and a witty take on creative pursuits, it concerns a commercial artist (Hopkins) unable—or unwilling—to choose between the equally dashing painter (Cooper) and playwright (March) she meets on a train en route to the City of Light. Design for Living is Lubitsch at his most adroit, an entertainment at once debonair and racy, featuring three stars at the height of their allure.

Special Features

New high-definition digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack

The Clerk, starring Charles Laughton

Selected-scene commentary by film professor William Paul

Play of the Week: A Choice of Coward, a 1964 British television production

New interview with Joseph McBride on Lubitsch

PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Kim Morgan

Product Details

  • Actors: Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Miriam Hopkins, Edward Everett Horton, Jane Darwell
  • Directors: Ernst Lubitsch
  • Format: Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: December 6, 2011
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B005ND87UY
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,595 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. Yarbrough on October 3, 2011
Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
**EDIT 12-6-11** Overall, I'll say that Criterion did a great job on the restoration and transfer of this 1933 classic. I would describe the picture quality as very good, not perfect, but very good. Signs of aging are still evident throughout the film (mainly vertically running scratches), but not to the extent of distracting or taking away from the viewing experience. Quality-wise, this is the clearest, most crisp version of this film that I have viewed.

Based on the Broadway hit by legendary playwright Noël Coward, Design for Living is an excellent Pre-Code comedy from the always daring Paramount Pictures. Directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, the film provides us with a refreshing look at the way American films were made before being heavily censored by the enforcement of the Hays Code in 1934. With the help of a risqué script from Hollywood veteran Ben Hecht, the director adds his famous "Lubitsch touch" to give us a very witty and fluid movie starring three of the biggest stars of the period. Gary Cooper, Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins have great chemistry together and really help to convey the message of the filmmakers - you only live once so do what makes you happy, regardless of how others view you.

In its day, Design for Living was very controversial for two reasons. The first and most obvious reason being the very risqué plot involving a ménage-à-trois relationship between three young Americans living in Paris. This film really took a jab at the morals and virtues that certain groups, namely the Legion of Decency, were trying to infuse back into American cinema. The second reason is that many people, including Noël Coward, were upset that screenwriter Ben Hecht retained only one line from the original play.
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Format: DVD
A disgruntled screenwriter stormed into director Ernst Lubitsch's office, threw 120 blank pieces of paper down onto his desk and said "Here! Give this the Lubitsch touch!"

Obviously, that's a writer's story...but the truth is that when Lubitsch did have a good script...or even a fair one, he was, indeed, able to bring that extra special "touch" to the material, thereby creating a series of risque' sophisticated comedies in the 1930s and 40s that have yet to be equaled. He was never vulgar in his "touches," but employed often hilarious visual suggestions, thus making it quite clear as to what was really going on behind those closed bedroom doors.

DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933) was adapted to the screen by Ben Hecht from Noel Coward's play. Miriam Hopkins stars as a commercial artist, who becomes smitten with both Gary Cooper, a struggling painter, and starving playwright Fredric March. The trio decides to live together...platonically...but you can imagine how long that aspect of the relationship lasts...and the problems that it causes. Edward Everett Horton co-stars in this witty, well-played comedy.

The Criterion Collection has released a marvelous 2-disc edition of DESIGN FOR LIVING that, aside from a new high-definition digital restoration with uncompressed monaural sound, also includes selected scene commentary by film professor William Paul, an interview with Joseph McBride on Lubitsch, plus a 1964 British television version of the play introduced by Coward and, best of all, the short sequence that Lubitsch directed for IF I HAD A MILLION (1932) featuring Charles Laughton. It was the funniest bit in that picture.

Finally, there is a booklet containing an essay by film critic Kim Morgan.

© Michael B. Druxman
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Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
Amazing Pre-Code film that I'm ecstatic to see has been selected by Criterion for this DVD release. I've been a fan of this particular genre for over a decade and when asked by friends to pick a movie that would help introduce them to the best of the Pre-Code releases in existence and release, I almost always pick "Design for Living".

Everything is just spot on - excellent performances, witty banter and a most unusual (yet completely plausible) exploration of the very nature of love and commitment. While missing some of the more naughty innuendo of the original Coward production, it still contained enough sex, sophistication and above all and at the heart of the film, a loving trio, to become one of the pinnacle films to sound the death knell on the pre-Hays freedom days and put into action the Production Code.

The bare bones of the story goes like this - girl (Gilda) meets boys (Tom & George) on a train. The three start off as friends and I'll leave it at that. Any more would completely ruin the plot and though you can probably guess what happens next, this is a movie that should be seen, savored and enjoyed piece by piece and scene by scene. I must say though, if put in Gilda's situation and forced to choose between Frederic March and Gary Cooper at the height of their talents, handsomeness and charm, why not establish 'a gentleman's agreement', particularly when one of the trio is most notably not a gentleman?

Directed masterfully by Ernst Lubitsch from Ben Hecht's adaptation of Noel Coward's play, this is definitely more than a light, screwball comedy. It's one of the best, most sophisticated and unconventional romances you'll ever see on screen. Even for a modern audience, the theme is not outdated, which just goes to show how ahead of the curve many Pre-Code films were even when seen through our 21st century eyes. One has to wonder just how many more gems such as this we might have gotten, had the Code not crashed the party.
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