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Previously available in a barebones edition as part of the US Gary Cooper Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC], Criterion's edition of Ernst Lubitsch's rarely revived take on Noel Coward's sophisticated comedy of sexual manners does it proud.

It tends to be forgotten that in the 30s Gary Cooper was as much a romantic idol as an action hero, and in the right film was surprisingly at home with sophisticated comedy. Design For Living is at least 70% delightful before the film starts to take the implications of its menage a trois plot more seriously in that traditional third act downer that most comedies feel obliged to offer to build up the rallying finale. But that 70% is so superb that I could forgive it anything, with the American stars (Frederic March and Miriam Hopkins making up the other corners of the triangle) giving Coward's words a more natural reading than the usual arch and stilted overplaying they're often treated to on the stage, allowing them to be funny instead of clever for once. It's also pleasingly amoral, with everyone getting the girl at one time or another and Miriam Hopkins making no secret of her own lust for Gary Cooper and Frederic March. Quite a pleasant little surprise.

Rounding out a fine new transfer are a decent selecton of extras: a 1964 British TV production of the play, the brief but hilarious Lubitsch-directed Charles Laughton episode from If I Had a Million, interview with critic Joseph McBride, selected scene commentary from film historian William Paul and a booklet.
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HALL OF FAMEon 31 December 2011
There's no doubt about what's going on in Design for Living, a delightful high comedy about a ménage a trois, written by Noel Coward as rewritten by Ben Hecht and directed by Ernst Lubitsch...and it's not hanky panky. No, it's just joyous, straightforward sex.

I have watched this movie more than once when it was released as part of The Gary Cooper Collection. It looked good then, and - I plead guilty to not having watched it yet in the newly released Criterion edition - I expect Criterion has done it proud. I plan to buy it. I have no idea what the extras may be like, but then I seldom watch the extras or listen to any film's commentary.

When two artists, the painter George Curtis (Gary Cooper) and the playwright Tom Chambers (Fredric March), encounter Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins) on the train to Paris, their 11-year friendship is going to be intriguingly tested. Gilda (with a soft "g") captures them both, and she reciprocates but can't choose. And why should she? She moves in with them. There's only one solution, however, to the inevitable problem. "Boys," she tells them "it's the only thing we can do. Let's forget sex." And with that, of course, neither they nor we can. Says Gilda to George and Tom later, "It's true we had a gentleman's agreement, but unfortunately, I am no gentleman." And says Tom to Gilda later, "George betrayed me for you. Without wishing to flatter you, I understood that. I can still understand it. But you betrayed me for George. An incredible choice!"

Ben Hecht often bragged that only one line of Coward's survived in his screenplay. All I know is that Hecht's words are some of the finest and funniest, as well as the most amusingly realistic, you're likely to find in a high-gloss Hollywood comedy. The movie just barely got in under the wire before the Production Code began to enforce the prude's code of morality on America. Lubitsch and Hecht create a sophisticated world in which going to bed with someone you like is as natural as...well, going to bed with someone you like. There's no leering or innuendo in the movie, just a reliance on the sophistication of the audience. For instance, Gilda explains to Tom and George the differences between how men and women sort things out. "You see," she tells them, "a man can meet two, three or four women and fall in love with all of them, and then, by a process of interesting elimination, he is able to decide which he prefers. But a woman must decide purely on instinct, guesswork, if she wants to be considered nice." The point we're aware of with a smile is that Gilda not only is nice, but smart, and that she's already tested the waters with each of them.

We start the movie with an ménage a trois, but one that turns into a duet with George and then a duet with Tom. After some encounters with business versus art, we all come to our senses and enjoy the sight of Gilda, George and Tom reunited in New York with a plan in mind. "Now we'll have some fun," Gilda says happily. "Back to Paris!" I have a feeling that forgetting sex won't be part of the plan for long.

The frisson of a bi-sexual ménage a trois is substantially toned down by Lubitsch and Hecht. While it wasn't explicit in Coward's stage play, one would have to be deaf and blind not to get the subtext, especially with Coward and Alfred Lunt as the two male leads when the play opened. In the movie, however, this just becomes inconsequential speculation, especially with Gary Cooper and Fredric March in the roles. Cooper manages not to embarrass himself in this highly polished comedy of sex and style, but it's clear that what works in Cooper's favor are his looks, not his line delivery or body language. March and Hopkins, however, are completely at ease and are a joy to watch.

Hollywood wouldn't make movies this adult and amusing until the Fifties, and even then the level of sophistication and respect for the audience, in my opinion, never fully recovered. Every now and then it's possible to come across in pre-Code Hollywood films of such mature pleasure you hope others will like them, too. Says one character in Design for Living, "Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of 100 per cent virtue and three square meals a day." How wrong he was...and is.
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on 28 August 2015
One of Lubitsch best and most modern films, where threesome relationship is portraid with a joyful yet not cliche energy, where it is not all good or bad and the story takes you up and down with a unique writing and directing style. Actors are fabulous and blu ray transfer is clean and elegant. A must have, still brilliant after all these years
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"Design for Living," (1933), is another pre-World War II, pre-Hays code Hollywood classic, a brisk, sophisticated 91 minute black and white romantic comedy. With attitude, a starry cast, and world-famous talent behind the camera, too.

It wasn't unusual in the early twentieth century for Americans, Britons, and others who wanted careers in the arts, to gravitate to Paris. Remember Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald? Of course, they wanted to write the Great American Novel. At any rate, three attractive young Americans living in Paris in the early twentieth century meet cute. Playwright Thomas B. (Tom) Chambers, played by Fredric March, (Les Misérables ), and painter George Curtis, played by Gary Cooper (and who knew he was so adept at comedy?), (Mr Deeds Goes to Town), are poverty-stricken roommates. They meet free-spirited fashion editor Gilda Farrell, played by that great Lubitsch favorite Miriam Hopkins, (TROUBLE IN PARADISE (Masters of Cinema)). She can't decide who she likes better -- whoever could?--so proposes a "gentleman's agreement." She will live with them as friend and critic of their work, but there will be no sex. However Tom, in his first taste of success, goes to London to supervise the production of his very first play to be staged. And George and Gilda are left on their own. As Gilda's boss at the mag, Max Plunkett, Edward Everett Horton, (TROUBLE IN PARADISE), delivers with his usual yeoman rom/com competence. Was there ever a 1930's rom/com made without him? The man must have made a movie a month.

The movie is famously based on the stage play of the same name by famed British actor/screenwriter/playwright/songwriter/bon vivant Noel Coward, (Blithe Spirit). However, it is also widely known that Ben Hecht, (His Girl Friday), the revered Hollywood screenwriter/man about town of many parts, who adapted it for film, came up with quite naughty dialog for the film, while using only one line from the play "For the good of our immortal souls!" The play was produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, perhaps the Hollywood filmmaker with the lightest touch of all time, (TROUBLE IN PARADISE). Nazi Germany's loss. Hollywood's gain. Lubitsch was particularly noted for "the Lubitsch touch," which involved split second timing, and a bubbling, buoyant erotic wit. In those days before the promulgation of the blue-nose repressive Hays Code, Lubitsch was able to sneak quite a bit of innuendo into his films. This one and TROUBLE IN PARADISE were probably his greatest achievements in this regard. And, oddly enough, or perhaps not so oddly, I have recently seen or re-seen four of Lubitsch's pictures, and all four center around romantic triangles, two of each flavor. Well, of course, this marvelous film is a very light confection, perhaps a bit silly and trivial, but hey, it's the great Lubitsch, and who's counting?
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Black and White oldie or not - unfortunately this USA-ONLY BLU RAY on Criterion of "Design For LIving" may look great but it's REGION-A LOCKED.

So it won't play on the vast majority of UK BLU RAY players unless they're chipped to be a Multi-Region for 'BLU RAY' - and most aren't.

Another classic denied us by the scurge of Region Coding...
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on 6 March 2012
No English subtitles available , as erroneously reported in your product details.
Quality of the product is definitely good , but lack of english subtitles made me give a poor rating .
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