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Design for Living

Design for Living(1933)

Remind Me

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The opening title card for this film reads: "An Ernst Lubitsch Production of Nol Coward's Design for Living." Motion Picture Herald 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; Hollywood Reporter 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 January 26, 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 June 26, 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 June 19, 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 November 13, 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 Motion Picture Daily on May 14, 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 August 29, 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 August 2, 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 Hollywood Reporter, 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.