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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Design For Living [Blu-ray]

 

(Ernst Lubitsch, 1933)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Universal

Video: Criterion Collection - Spine # 592

 

Disc:

Region: 'A'-locked (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:31:32.904

Disc Size: 47,793,347,586 bytes

Feature Size: 26,897,166,336 bytes

Video Bitrate: 35.06 Mbps

Chapters: 10

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: December 6th, 2011

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

• “The Clerk,” starring Charles Laughton, director Ernst Lubitsch’s segment of the 1932 omnibus film If I Had a Million (2:21 in 1080i)
• Selected-scene commentary by film scholar William Paul (35:31 in 1080P)
• British television production of the play Design for Living from 1964, introduced on camera by playwright Noël Coward (1:13:31 in 1080i)
• New interview with film scholar and screenwriter Joseph McBride on Lubitsch and screenwriter Ben Hecht’s adaptation of the Coward play (22:08 in 1080P)
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Kim Morgan

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and Miriam Hopkins play a trio of Americans in Paris who enter into a very adult “gentleman’s agree­ment” in this continental pre-Code comedy, freely adapted by Ben Hecht from a play by Noël Coward and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. A risqué relationship story and a witty take on creative pursuits, the film concerns a commercial artist (Hopkins) unable—or unwilling—to choose between the equally dashing painter (Cooper) and playwright (March) she meets on a train en route to the City of Light. Design for Living is Lubitsch at his sexiest, an entertainment at once debonair and racy, featuring three stars at the height of their allure.

 

 

The Film:

Lubitsch first asked his favorite screenwriter Samson Raphaelson (Trouble in Paradise, 1932) to write the script for Design for Living (1933), but Raphaelson wasn't interested in revising Coward. So Lubitsch asked the playwright of The Front Page (1928) and the screenwriter for Scarface (1932) -- Ben Hecht -- to take on the task. Thus Paramount, which had paid $50,000 to Coward for the rights, had to also pay the same amount to Hecht for a screenplay. The result turned out to be just as racy as Coward's, but in a totally different way, a combination of Lubitsch's European subtlety and Hecht's slam-bang American earthiness. Hecht proudly proclaimed that he used only one line from Coward's play in his script: "for the good of our immortal souls." But ever the prankster, Hecht did throw in some lines from other Coward plays into his Design for Living screenplay.

Miriam Hopkins, who had been brilliant in Lubitsch's
Trouble in Paradise, was the director's one and only choice to play the woman in Design for Living's triangle. Lubitsch had hoped to cast Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard in the male leads. But Colman was too expensive, and Howard didn't want to risk comparisons to Lunt or Coward. Then Lubitsch chose Fredric March and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., but at the last minute Fairbanks came down with pneumonia. According to Lubitsch biographer Scott Eyman, the director then "stunned everybody" by casting action star Gary Cooper.

Excerpt from TCM located HERE

When Ernst Lubitsch's film of Noel Coward's famous farce was released in 1933, Ben Hecht's screenplay was attacked for coarsening Coward, and Lubitsch was ridiculed for casting Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and Miriam Hopkins in the parts played onstage by Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, and Coward himself. Well, maybe it is a little lumpy for Lubitsch, but I think the film more than holds its own. Cooper is a problem, but the bubbles rise in spite of him. Very glossy, very continental, and sometimes very funny.

Excerpt from Dave Kehr's capsule at the Chicago Reader located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

This is a case where the static captures are not the best indication of improvement via a 1080P transfer. The Criterion is lighter but the contrast has more layers than the Universal SD rendering. The SD looks pretty good next to the HD until you peer closer and can see the digital weaknesses of the DVD. The Blu-ray shows more information in the frame - on all 4 edges. The DVD's digital artifacts look a lot like grain and the darker image is appealing but it loses in the overall more film-like presentation appearance. This is dual-layered with a very high bitrate. The film's textures are still intact and are represented well in HD. This is a case where a shade of black level boosting may have benefitted the visual appearance but regardless the Blu-ray gave me a fantastic viewing.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Screen Captures

 

Universal (Gary Cooper Collection) - Region 1 - NTSC Reviewed HERE - TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


Universal (Gary Cooper Collection) - Region 1 - NTSC Reviewed HERE - TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 


Universal (Gary Cooper Collection) - Region 1 - NTSC Reviewed HERE - TOP vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray - BOTTOM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Criterion stay faithful with a fairly unremarkable linear PCM track in 1.0 channel mono at 1152 kbps. While still showing its age the audio fares better than the DVD sounding a bit more resonant with less hiss. It exports consistency throughout viewing. There are optional English subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'A'-locked.

 

Extras :

Between Trouble in Paradise and Design For Living, Ernst Lubitsch directed a segment of a 1932 omnibus film If I had a Million for Paramount Pictures. The film is a series of vignettes about a dying tycoon, played by Richard Bennett, who decides to give his money to eight randomly selected strangers. Lubitsch's segment, "The Clerk" stars Charles Laughton and runs a brief 2:21 in 1080i. We get 35-minutes of selected-scene commentary by film scholar William Paul author of Ernst Lubitsch American Comedy. He provides a visual analysis of the film and traces the development of the directors' style from Trouble in Paradise to Design For Living. There is also a new interview with film scholar and screenwriter Joseph McBride on Lubitsch and screenwriter Ben Hecht’s adaptation of the Coward play - running 22-minutes. In 1964, as part of the show Play of the Week, England's ITV broadcast A Choice of Coward, a miniseries featuring four plays written and selected by Noel Coward. Criterion include the production of Design For Living starring Daniel Massey, Jill Bennett and John Wood. The 1 1/4 hour program is introduced on camera by Coward himself, providing the opportunity to see a production of the play that, unlike Ernst Lubitsch film, closely follows Cowards' original. In the package is a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film critic Kim Morgan.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
A big part of the beauty of Design for Living is the décor, architecture and fashions - with significant Art Deco influences. From that standpoint this may be the most indulgent art direction - and for fans of the style - it is gorgeous. Although it may be a slight notch below Trouble in Paradise - this is still a total masterpiece in my opinion. The 'guy' leads are just right but Miriam Hopkins steals the show and Design For Living has so much going for it. The Criterion not only gives a dynamic HD presentation - as authentic as we are likely to get on digital - but also includes valuable extra features that only enhance appreciation for the film. Strongly recommedned! 

Gary Tooze

February th, 2011


 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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