Design for Living (1933)

88 or 90 mins | Romantic comedy | 29 December 1933

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HISTORY

The opening title card for this film reads: "An Ernst Lubitsch Production of Noël Coward's Design for Living." MPH lists this film as a box office "champion" of 1934. Coward wrote and starred in the Broadway production, which ran seventeen weeks. Several reviews mention the dissimilarity between Coward's play and Ben Hecht's screen adaptation; HR states, "not one line of [Coward's] dialogue remains." Hecht is quoted in modern sources as having said all he retained of Coward's play was the title and one line: "For the good of our immortal souls!" In an interview with Alistair Cooke in the London Obeserver, quoted in a modern source, Ernst Lubitsch states: "Motion pictures should not talk about events in the past. That's why I've completely changed the beginning of the play. Even on the stage this was dull. One was told where they met, what they had done for many years, how they had loved. I have to show these things, in their right order. Things on the screen should happen in the present. Pictures should have nothing to do with the past tense. The dialogue should deal with what is, not with what was."
       A memo contained in files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library dated 26 Jan 1933, (two days after the play opened in New York) in which the Hays Office discusses the possibility of Coward's play being adapted for the screen, states: "Despite the author's excuse for the unconventionality of the characters' actions on the ground that they are artists and responsible, accordingly, to their own ...

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The opening title card for this film reads: "An Ernst Lubitsch Production of Noël Coward's Design for Living." MPH lists this film as a box office "champion" of 1934. Coward wrote and starred in the Broadway production, which ran seventeen weeks. Several reviews mention the dissimilarity between Coward's play and Ben Hecht's screen adaptation; HR states, "not one line of [Coward's] dialogue remains." Hecht is quoted in modern sources as having said all he retained of Coward's play was the title and one line: "For the good of our immortal souls!" In an interview with Alistair Cooke in the London Obeserver, quoted in a modern source, Ernst Lubitsch states: "Motion pictures should not talk about events in the past. That's why I've completely changed the beginning of the play. Even on the stage this was dull. One was told where they met, what they had done for many years, how they had loved. I have to show these things, in their right order. Things on the screen should happen in the present. Pictures should have nothing to do with the past tense. The dialogue should deal with what is, not with what was."
       A memo contained in files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library dated 26 Jan 1933, (two days after the play opened in New York) in which the Hays Office discusses the possibility of Coward's play being adapted for the screen, states: "Despite the author's excuse for the unconventionality of the characters' actions on the ground that they are artists and responsible, accordingly, to their own code of morals, it is somewhat doubtful whether a motion picture audience would take that viewpoint, and a motion picture treatment would be faced with that basic difficulty." By 26 Jun 1933, Dr. James Wingate, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, reported to Will H. Hays, President of the MPPDA, that the story had been nearly completely rewritten from the play, and that the "gentleman's agreement" of no sex was admissable under the Code. On 19 Jun 1933, an inter-office memo stated that the Hays Office believed it "necessary to indicate that there are at least two bedrooms in [George and Gilda's] apartment." In the scene where George walks in on Tom and Gilda, Tom, dressed in his tuxedo, was to come out, not from Gilda's room, but from the other one. The memo also stated that, in Tom and George's first apartment, there should be "sufficient accommodation for three to live separable in the apartment and live up to their bargain of no sex." Ironically, although the Office believed the French would take offense at the use of Napoleon as the subject of Gilda's underwear cartoons, it was the British censors who objected to it. The Hays Office recommended that the line, "It is my unprotected rear that lost me Waterloo" should be deleted under the Code. On 13 Nov 1933, it was recorded in an inter-office memo that the film had met the technical requirements of the Code.
       A Hays Office memo states that, as reported in MPD on 14 May 1934, this film was among a list of films (that was printed in local Catholic publications in Detroit for the first time) banned for members of the Legion of Decency. According to a letter dated 29 Aug 1940 from Joseph I. Breen, Director of the PCA, to Joseph J. Nolan, an RKO executive, the PCA re-viewed the film at the request of RKO producer Harry E. Edington, who wanted to remake the film. Although the film was passed by the censors in 1934, Breen writes: "It goes without saying that the picture we saw this morning is definitely, and specifically, in violation of the Production Code on a half dozen counts, because it is a story of gross sexual irregularity, that is treated for comedy, and which has no "compensating moral values" of any kind. That is the basic objection to the story as a whole." For any remake, Breen says, it would be necessary to "remove from [the film] the unacceptable illicit sexual relationships, as well as all dialogue dealing with these unacceptable basic phases of the story." On 2 Aug 1944, Breen wrote to Paramount executive Luigi Luraschi, who apparently wanted to re-issue the 1934 film, stating, "you will please have in mind that this particular opus, Design for Living, was one of the pictures which contributed much to the nation-wide public protest against motion pictures, which flaired up early in 1934, and which resulted in the formation of the Legion of Decency." Breen closed the letter by requesting that Paramount withdraw its application for approval of the picture. The preview length for this film was 105 minutes. According to news items in the HR, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was set to play the role of the playwright, but when he became ill, Fredric March replaced him. Modern sources credit Nathaniel Finston with music direction, Travis Banton with costume design, and include Cosmo Kyrle Bellew and Barry Vinton in the cast.

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PERSONAL & COMPANY INDEX CREDITS
HISTORY CREDITS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
23 Oct 1933
p. 3
Film Daily
17 Nov 1933
p. 11
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jun 1933
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jun 1933
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 1933
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 1933
p. 3
International Photographer
1 Aug 1933
p. 24
Motion Picture Daily
31 Oct 1933
pp. 1-2
Motion Picture Daily
14 May 1934
p. 1, 3
Motion Picture Herald
8 Apr 1933
p. 10
Motion Picture Herald
2 Sep 1933
p. 43
Motion Picture Herald
25 Nov 1933
p. 35
New York Times
23 Nov 1933
p. 24
Variety
28 Nov 1933
p. 20
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Ernst Lubitsch Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
WRITER
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
William Mellor
Cam op
Asst cam
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SOUND
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Design for Living by Noël Coward (New York, 24 Jan 1933).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Noël Coward's Design for Living
Release Date:
29 December 1933
Production Date:

Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Paramount Productions, Inc.
28 December 1933
LP4368
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
88 or 90
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
SYNOPSIS

On a train bound for Paris, commercial artist Gilda Farrell meets fellow Americans George Curtis, a painter, and Thomas B. Chambers, a playwright, who share an apartment in the Bohemian section of Paris. Gilda works for prudish advertising agent Max Plunkett, who is currently running an ad campaign for Kaplan and McGuire's non-wrinkling underwear featuring Gilda's caricature of Napoleon in his skivvies. Although Max has known Gilda for five years, he has never gotten to first base with her romantically. After he discovers Gilda's separate rendezvous with Tom and George, whom he calls "hooligans," Max warns each of them that "immorality might be fun, but not fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day." Tom decides the line makes a good close for the first act of his new play, and when he reads it to George, each realizes that the other is in love with Gilda. Although they make a pact to forget Gilda, when she calls for a visit, neither one can turn her down. She arrives and confesses to each that she saw the other behind his back. Unable to choose between them, she suggests that they forget sex and concentrate on their work and all three make a gentleman's agreement to do so. Gilda moves in and becomes a "mother of the arts" by encouraging the boys' talent while deflating their egos. Soon Tom has sold his play to a London theatrical producer and must leave Paris for five weeks. Without Tom's presence, George and Gilda can no longer restrain themselves and break their agreement, then send ...

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On a train bound for Paris, commercial artist Gilda Farrell meets fellow Americans George Curtis, a painter, and Thomas B. Chambers, a playwright, who share an apartment in the Bohemian section of Paris. Gilda works for prudish advertising agent Max Plunkett, who is currently running an ad campaign for Kaplan and McGuire's non-wrinkling underwear featuring Gilda's caricature of Napoleon in his skivvies. Although Max has known Gilda for five years, he has never gotten to first base with her romantically. After he discovers Gilda's separate rendezvous with Tom and George, whom he calls "hooligans," Max warns each of them that "immorality might be fun, but not fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day." Tom decides the line makes a good close for the first act of his new play, and when he reads it to George, each realizes that the other is in love with Gilda. Although they make a pact to forget Gilda, when she calls for a visit, neither one can turn her down. She arrives and confesses to each that she saw the other behind his back. Unable to choose between them, she suggests that they forget sex and concentrate on their work and all three make a gentleman's agreement to do so. Gilda moves in and becomes a "mother of the arts" by encouraging the boys' talent while deflating their egos. Soon Tom has sold his play to a London theatrical producer and must leave Paris for five weeks. Without Tom's presence, George and Gilda can no longer restrain themselves and break their agreement, then send word to Tom in London. Even though Tom's play is a big success and he is welcomed into London society, he is heartbroken over Gilda. When he runs into Max at the theatre, Max tells him George is now a prominent painter, and Tom goes to Paris that night to see him. When he arrives, he learns that George has left their old flat and has moved into a penthouse apartment. Although George is in Nice for a commissioned portrait, his "secretary," Gilda, is at home, and she and Tom rekindle their love. The next morning, George comes home early and, finding Tom in a tuxedo for breakfast, realizes he and Gilda have made love and tells them both to get out. George offers to take Gilda to London that afternoon, but she writes each of them a good-bye note and runs away to marry Max in Manhattan. On her wedding night, Gilda receives two potted flowers from Tom and George and is so distracted by the stunt that she fails to consummate her marriage to Max. Max later hosts a party for his advertising clients in order to be accepted into society and Gilda reluctantly plays the role of the bourgeois corporate wife. In the middle of a game of "Twenty Questions," Tom and George enter in tuxedos and go immediately to inspect Gilda's boudoir. Tired of inane parlor games, Gilda retires upstairs, but Max follows, urging her to ask an important client, Mr. Egelbauer, to sing. She refuses and then discovers Tom and George hiding in her bedroom. Max then walks in on them laughing on the bed and orders the hooligans out. Tom and George then proceed to the livingroom, where they mock Egelbauer's singing and cause a brawl, and the guests all leave. Gilda then tells Max she's leaving him for the sake of his business, and joins Tom and George in a cab, bound for Paris, and all three renew their gentleman's agreement.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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