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Design For Living

Screening on Film
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
With Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Gary Cooper.
US, 1933, 35mm, black & white, 90 min.
Print source: Universal

Completed a year prior to the implementation of the Production Code but later banned by the Legion of Decency, Design for Living is at once a testament to the subversive ingenuity of Lubitsch’s thirties output and a good indicator of the limits of what was considered acceptable during the period. The film stars Gary Cooper, Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins as participants in a ménage à trois in Paris, albeit one predicated upon a sexless “gentlemen’s agreement”—at least at first. As Hopkins’ witty ad-girl shacks up with her beloved American artists (the former a painter, the latter a playwright) to the disturbance of her priggish suitor (Edward Everett Horton), passions flare up in multiple, competing directions, but the film ultimately builds towards an endorsement of this adult arrangement rather than a moralistic depiction of its unraveling. Doused in innuendo-laden dialogue courtesy of Ben Hecht and Noël Coward, unfolding in erotically charged group framings, and culminating in a hilarious slow-burn set piece at a high-society party, Design for Living skewers sacrosanct ideas of love and monogamy with precisely the sort of devilish delicacy for which Lubitsch was renowned. 

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