There’s Just Something About Miriam
Miriam Hopkins was born to play Gilda Farrell. Not Noël Coward’s Gilda, of course. He created that role for Lynn Fontanne. Miriam’s Gilda was written by the hilarious Ben Hecht, and lovingly crafted for the silver screen by the great German director with the famous touch, Ernst Lubitsch. Together, they set Miriam up with one of the plum parts of her career: a progressive heroine for the ages. Her Gilda is just that: her Gilda. No one else could have filled her with such élan or intelligence, warmth or charm. For, you see, Miriam Hopkins was as exceptional a performer as Gilda is a character. To have one without the other is unthinkable!
There’s Just Something About Miriam…
In an industry where conformity to one’s ascribed type is the ideal, if not quite a requirement, Miriam Hopkins’ transgressions against the celluloid status quo were enough to fill a small ledger.
On screen, she is demurely beautiful or joyously erotic or a sad excuse of a slattern. Her smile lights up the whole universe, but is often tamped down under a weight of sadness, fear, or anger. Miriam-the-actress knew how to toss a biting, pointed quip better than anyone. Than anyone. She was sexy as hell. Spiteful, generous, flirtatious. Girl embodied it all, and with such intelligence. Her special brand of It translates seamlessly from one genre to the next. She subtly Miriam-ified everything she touched.
Whether backed by good or bad material, her romantic comedy heroines were (and remain) truly different.
Successful commercial artist Gilda Farrell is the emancipated heart of Design for Living (1933). After meeting flatmates and best friends, playwright Thomas Chambers (Fredric March) and painter George Curtis (Gary Cooper), on a train to Paris, she falls very much in like with both men.
The opening sequence is fresh, playful, and wickedly funny. The script gets off to a banging start, and never slows down for even half a heartbeat.
Case in point is her assessment of George’s painting of Lady Godiva (riding a bicycle): “I saw it with a friend of mine. She loved it. We haven’t spoken since.”
“You’re wisecracking with paint. It simply creaks with originality.”
Gilda is perceptive, and is not afraid to voice her opinions. Although acerbic, she is good-humored and down-to-earth. She also knows what she wants, and what she wants is Tom. And George.
Thus, after an insightful and mature conversation, their “gentleman’s agreement” is born.
“Boys, it’s the only thing we can do. Let’s forget sex!”
They spend the rest of the film sticking to, and breaking, their pact. Gilda’s not so good at it, herself.
“It’s true we have a gentleman’s agreement, but unfortunately, I am no gentleman!”
Edward Everett Horton rounds out the main cast as Gilda’s boss, prospective paramour, and eventual (short-term) husband. You know that things have taken a drastic turn for the absurd when she leaves Tom and George to marry the fusty Max. If there’s one thing we have learned from E.E.H.’s many character parts, it’s that he is good for some laughs (albeit at his expense) but not romance or a roll in the hay. This is no exception. In the end, Gilda Farrell gets her
man men. Both of ’em.
How’s that for a happy ending?
After the horrors of the terrific Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), it’s nice to see Miriam Hopkins and Fredric March engaging in a healthy, playful on-screen relationship. Gilda and Tom are as far removed from Ivy Pearson and Mr. Hyde as possible. Add in the magical Gary Cooper, who excelled in odd comedies, and you have as scrumptious a love triangle as ever existed. The three stars play off of each other in a natural, infectious way. Edward Everett Horton, too, is delightfully, if predictably, on point. The overall cast is so small (only eight actors are listed in the opening credits), that the issue of chemistry is vitally important. Fortunately, we need not worry. Their chemistry is even more impressive than Tom’s hit play, Good Night Bassington.
Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Miriam Hopkins, Edward Everett Horton, Franklin Pangborn, Isabel Jewell, Jane Darwell, Wyndham Standing
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch; Screenplay by Ben Hecht; Based on the Play by Noël Coward
- Max Plunkett: “Immorality may be fun, but it isn’t fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day!”
- Tom Chambers: “Oh, now don’t let’s be delicate, Mr. Plunkett. Let’s be crude and objectionable, both of us.”
- George Curtis: “Mustache or no mustache, I need a clean shirt for tomorrow.”
- Gilda Farrell: “We have to tell him the truth, no matter what happens to the furniture.”
- Tom Chambers: “I’m afraid, Bassington, that you are wrong!”
- Gilda Farrell: “I’m going to be a Mother of the Arts!”
- Tom Chambers: “I’m a playwright. I write unproduced plays. I’m very good at that kind.”
- Tom Chambers: “A bicycle seat is a little hard on Lady Godiva’s historical background.”
◊Effie is our Film correspondent. She shockingly prefers House Peters’ profile to John Barrymore’s.
Up next: In Part Two of our review, Charlotte gives us tips for dressing like Gilda.
10 thoughts on “[The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon] Design for Living: Part One-There’s Just Something About Miriam”
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Great review. Must catch up with this one.
Thank you! It’s such a fun romp of a movie!
It was a lot of fun reading this – I enjoyed this film, and you’ve picked out some memorable quotes there! Looking forward to part two, and congratulations on the new blog.
Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed Part One of the review. Thanks also for stopping by the new blog.
Great blog, Maedez! I do love Miriam in this movie. Though not as perfect as its cousin Trouble in Paradise, it presents the actress as the star. She has many good lines, superb comic timing and plenty of chemistry with her co-stars. Can’t wait to read parts 2, 3 and four of your series. Thanks for co-hosting the Miriam blogathon. As a looooongtime fan, I am having the best weekend! Eaglebauer…Eaglebauer…EAGLEBAUER!
Very few films are as perfect as Trouble in Paradise, but Design for Living is delightful on its own merits.
One of the things that I love about this film is that it has such a small cast (really, only four people with, four others in very small roles). Because of this, everyone shines individually AND they have the best onscreen camaraderie imaginable. It’s the best of both worlds: amazing star turns + a true ensemble cast.
I’ve not seen this film, and why is that!! It looks like an amazing script. I like Tom Chamber’s observation that he’s very good at unproduced plays.
The script is incredible. Ben Hecht was a master.
Tom has a lot of the best lines in the film, and Freddie certainly knew how to do them justice.
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