Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, Design for Living, Elizabeth Taylor, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Greta Garbo, Leslie Howard, Loretta Young, Marlene Dietrich, Miriam Hopkins, Monique classique, Norma Shearer, Roman Holiday, Romeo and Juliet, Vivien Leigh, Warren Beatty
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A delightful and extremely fashionable comedy in the unforgettable style of Ernst Lubitsch, “Design for Living” is one of the most appreciated comedies in the pre-code Hollywood era. The story involves a romantic triangle between a woman and two men. In the leading roles you will find the beautiful Miriam Hopkins and the talented actors Fredric March and Gary Cooper. Owing to its controversial plot, with sexual discussions and innuendos, the film was almost banned by the Hays Office in 1934, but eventually it was successfully released. In the initial version, it was 105 minutes long, and 15 minutes were cut in the final version. The film is based on the homonymous play by Noel Coward, and Ben Hecht, who wrote the screenplay, kept only one line from the original play: “For the good of our immortal souls”. I had a wonderful time watching this comedy and it is so modern even for present-day.
One of the iconic pre-code films, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” made Fredric March an international star. He won an Oscar for his memorable performance and also an award at the Venice Film Festival. The famous story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been several times made for the big screen – there was an even earlier, German version, “Der Januskopf” (1920), with Conrad Veidt, but it’s sadly lost. Returning to Fredric March, I found his dual role here simply outstanding and very difficult to play. His transition from the handsome doctor to the monstruous Mr. Hyde within less than a minute was unbelievable. The heavy make-up he wore in this film reminded me of Conrad’s make-up in “The Man Who Laughs” (1928). Rouben Mamoulian, the director, did a magnificent job in the climax scenes. I liked particularly the ones that involved Miriam Hopkins as the beautiful girl who falls in love with Dr. Jekyll, only to become Mr. Hyde’s obsession and inocent victim. It was fascinating to see the scene where she comes to the doctor for help, as she was terrorized by Hyde, and he assures her that she will no longer be disturbed. To see March taking that doll-like face into his hands, almost kissing her, and only a few hours later becoming her criminal, it was somehow disturbing to me, but this is what really makes this film a masterpiece. The unique combination of contrastable faces, moods, feelings and attitudes of two different people in just a single body, and a damsel in distress – or, in fact, two damsels in distress, because even Dr. Jekyll’s girlfriend almost becomes Mr. Hyde’s victim. All in all, I highly recommend you to watch this gem of the pre-code productions. It will certainly be a memorable, thrilling experience. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Adaptation (based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson), and Best Cinematography, and it is one of the greatest classical horror films of all time, along with “The Phantom at the Opera”, “Dracula” and “Frankenstein”.
One of the most famous films directed by Ernst Lubitsch, “Trouble in Paradise” brings into our attention three great Hollywood forgotten stars: Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall. The film itself is a hidden gem that was brought to surface only in the last couple of years, several film critics promoting it in their books and articles. I, personally, wasn’t so much enraptured by the script itself, which followed the typical line of a love triangle, but by the atmosphere itself. You will certainly love all the dresses that Hopkins and Francis wear and that were masterfully created by Travis Benton, the expensive jewellery, the Art Deco designs, and, of course, the actors’ performances. You will enjoy the presence of two familiar actors in the supporting cast, Edward Everett Horton (who appeared in most of the Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire movies) and C. Aubrey Smith (known for several classics, like “Waterloo Bridge”, “Rebecca”, and “The Prisoner of Zenda”). The plot of the film involves two professional thieves who make a scheme to steal the money from a wealthy businesswoman. Throughout the film, there are many references to the economic crisis from 1929-1932, but the glamour and the exciting life of the fortunate ones is certainly the key of this comedy. Lubitsch is great at such productions, as you will remember some other top films of his, such as “Ninotchka”, “To Be or Not to Be”, “The Shop Around the Corner”, and “Heaven Can Wait”. You will get to like “Trouble in Paradise” and even to dream about it – at least, it happened to me. I liked Kay Francis in particular, not just because she was such a terrific actress, but also because she was a distinguished and elegant presence, who possessed a lot of money in real life (no wonder why she usually played the role of a socialite) and who was famous for her splendid dresses that fit her to perfection, even more because she was a very tall woman, at 1.75 m. being taller than other tall celebrities in those times, like Greta Garbo and Rosalind Russell. All in all, I highly recommend you to watch this film. It’s high class entertainment in the purest old Hollywood style!