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Designing Woman

Designing Woman on DVD

Vincente Minelli directed this wonderful comedy about a crusty sportswriter (Gregory Peck) who marries a high fashion designer (Lauren Bacall), thus unleashing a great mix of fish out of water scenarios for both partners.

Peck is Mike Hagen, the stereotypical ink-stained hard drinkin' and hard livin' New York newspaperman. When the film opens, he's on a road trip to Los Angeles and suffering from a severe hangover combined with the frightening loss of memory that can accompany a bender.

Bacall is Marilla, who lives in an expensive Manhattan apartment and hangs with the intelligentsia and the artsy fartsy. She's also on a road trip to L.A. and remembers everything about the night before when she and Mike met and felt a mutual attraction.

Mike has no idea who she is, of course, since they travel in decidedly different circles. But he's the master of his own universe and when they quickly fall in love he figures when they marry they'll live in his rumpled flat and life will go on pretty much as before - except that he'll have a little woman to dote on and to be waited upon by.

Of course the opposite happens. Her apartment is much more suitable for a married couple, especially where one half is well-to-do, so they settle there - much to Mike's chagrin when Marilla's society friends start showing up and he finds himself feeling much like a useless appendage.

Their relationship is further complicated by Mike's ex-flame, who is cast coincidentally in a new musical for which Marilla is designing the costumes, and a racketeer out to put the muscle on Mike for some of his writing. The latter problem causes Mike to move into a hotel while pretending to be on another road trip and when Marilla inevitably finds out he's been lying to her about more than one important thing, their relationship threatens to fall apart.

Designing Woman may seem superficially to be a battle of the sexes comedy and there are certain aspects of that to it. But it's really a fish out of water comedy, times two, as these very different people try to find common ground in their lives that'll let them maintain their previous lifestyles while embracing their new, shared one as well. It's a learning experience for both, and one with hilarious consequences.

Peck shows great comedic skills in Designing Woman, moving effortlessly from incredulous reactions to humiliating pratfalls. He isn't known as a comedian, but this film shows that his skills extended far beyond the dramatic.

Bacall is perfectly cast as Marilla. She's classy, strong, independent and sexy all at once. They're backed up by a terrific supporting cast that includes Dolores Gray, Sam Levene, Tom Helmore, Mickey Shaugnessy, Jesse White and Chuck Connors. And there are some great comedy sequences. Watch for the pasta in the lap one (followed by Peck's public appearance in borrowed trousers far too small for him) and the swish director who can flit about with the most flamboyant on one hand, then use his dancer's skills to beat up an alley full of thugs on the other).

The DVD befits the quality of the film itself. Warner Brothers has given it a very good anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) transfer and this 1957 release looks great, with all of the gorgeous colors and lush surroundings you'd expect from a movie that exists in the world of fashion and high society. The picture's bright and sharp, with no evidence of artifacts.

The audio, as is typical for this age of film, is okay. It's transferred to the disc in Dolby Digital mono and considering the state of the recording art in the 1950's (well, recording studios could do a better job, but real, high fidelity audio was much rarer in movies then than it is now) it sounds fine. Warners has directed the mono signal to the center front channel, too, which is as it should be (but often, unfortunately, isn't).

Extras are limited. You get a short promotional "fake interview" with costume designer Helen Rose, the trailer, and a bit of cast/filmmaker info, but that's it.

Designing Woman, from Warner Home Video
118 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital mono
Starring Gregory Peck, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Gray
Produced by Dore Schary
Written by George Wells, Directed by Vincente Minelli


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Updated May 13, 2006