Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch / U.S., 1933):

Noel Coward purists can have Cavalcade, Ernst Lubitsch prefers to introduce his characters by showing how falling asleep on a moving train is one of the most cinematic things. (The Hitchcock of Suspicion seconds it.) Gary Cooper and Fredric March snore aboard the Paris-bound express, theyíre joined by Miriam Hopkins in a very handsome preamble which employs a shifting pencil sketch to illustrate the difficulty of pinning down human emotion. (It proceeds in French for a minute or so, until American slang reveals the hand of the third auteur, Ben Hecht.) "Welcome to bohemia!" Cooperís a modernist painter, Marchís an aspiring playwright; Hopkins, an advertiser with Napoleon caricatures in her portfolio, fancies the tension of the triangle and becomes the liquid mercury flowing between the fellas. Asked to choose, she settles for both, even if under the guise of platonic muse for their artistic urges. "Letís forget sex" is the agreement. "Saves lots of time." "And confusion." But sex canít be denied, and, in order to salvage the relationship between the men, the heroine sacrifices the trioís risky dynamics for the stuffy security of a wealthy suitor (Edward Everett Horton). Behind the ringing of old typewriters and toasts to smallpox, thereís genuine transgression in these drawing rooms. Lubitschís radicalism, like Mizoguchiís, rests on the simple extension of the rights of one gender to the other, so that Hopkinsí seizing of the sexual entitlement reserved for males ("A thing happened to me that usually happens to men...") becomes the path toward balance. The charactersí arrangement may at first amount to "trying to play jokes on nature," but the revolutionaries do storm the Bastille, clad in tuxedos -- "Donít letís be delicate. Letís be crude and objectionable." Dismissed by Anglophile reviewers, devoured by the Cahiers crowd: Jules and Jim adds "la mort" to "líamour," Une Femme est une Femme is a thoroughgoing analysis. With Franklin Pangborn, Isabel Jewell, and Jane Darwell. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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