Eighty-five years ago, today, the #1 film at the box office was the menage a trois comedy Design For Living. Released on December 29, 1933, it starred Fredric March, Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins. It was based, loosely on a play written by Noël Coward in 1932. It was very risqué for its time and, was a pre-code movie produced and released before strict enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, the censorship guidelines demanded by American Roman Catholics. Interestingly, the critical response to the film was more about its gutting of the original material than of its questionable morality.
Two Americans sharing a flat in Paris, playwright Tom Chambers and painter George Curtis, fall for free-spirited Gilda Farrell. When she can’t make up her mind which one of them she prefers, she proposes a “gentleman’s agreement”: She will move in with them as a friend and critic of their work but, they will never have sex. When Tom goes to London to supervise a production of one of his plays, leaving Gilda alone with George, how long will their gentleman’s agreement last?
♦ Gary Cooper spoke fluent French and was able to use it for the first time in this film.
♦ Lubitsch [then] asked Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to play George, and he accepted but, he contracted pneumonia just before filming was to start and he was replaced by Gary Cooper.
♦ Writer Ben Hecht and producer-director Ernst Lubitsch retained only one line from the original play by Noël Coward: “For the good of our immortal souls!”
♦ Considerable censorship difficulties arose because of sexual discussions and innuendos, although the Hays Office eventually approved the film for release. However, it was banned by the Legion of Decency and was refused a certificate by the PCA for re-release in 1934, when the production code was more rigorously enforced.