Released in 1957, Vicente Minnelli’s screwball comedy Designing Woman earned writer George Wells an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The concept for the story came from famed, two-time Oscar winning costume designer Helen Rose, who fashioned a romance, equal parts Hepburn/Tracy comedy and conflict. Wells took Rose’s initial idea and fashioned it into a breezy, fun script. The original plan had been to reunite Grace Kelly with her Rear Window co-star James Stewart, but that change when Kelly quit. acting to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. Instead, Lauren Bacall (Harper) and Gregory Peck (Pork Chop Hill) starred and had a critical and commercial success.
A New Yorker, sportswriter Mike Hagen (Peck) is in Los Angeles covering a golf tournament, when he meets Marilla Brown (Bacall), a fashion designer on vacation, and staying at his hotel. The two marry after a whirlwind courtship and quickly realize they have little in common. In the end, they realize they’re perfect for each other, but before that, hilarity ensues. It a common Hollywood plot (and probably always will be), but it’s the characters, fine acting and witty script that makes it unique.
Her friends are fashionable and sophisticated, his are low brow sports personalities. Things get more complicated when Marilla spots a photo of Mike’s former flame, showgirl Lori Shannon (Delores Gray) in his apartment. Predictably, Marilla has her own former flame (Tom Helmore), who muddies the waters of love for the new couple. If that’s not enough, there are mobsters, interrupted poker games, and more.
Minnelli cast against type when choosing Gregory Peck as the groom. Known then as primarily a serious actor, he had little comedic experience, but enjoyed the change of pace. Bacall, at the time having spent months caring for her dying husband Humphrey Bogart desperately wanted the part. The chemistry between Peck and Bacall is immediately obvious. It’s remarkable how comfortable Peck seems with light comedy. It’s a shame that Peck and Bacall didn’t appear onscreen again together until the 1993 made-for-TV movie The Portrait. They really are a joy to watch together.
If I had one complaint of Designing Woman, I’d say it’s a bit long. Given the films two-hour runtime, some judicious editing would have allowed Minnelli to shorten a few scenes to create a brisker pace. Aside from that, Designing Woman has been a rather underrated screwball comedy that hopefully gains a new audience via Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release.
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Warner Archive’s 1080p transfer looks great, with wonderful color reproduction throughout. While I noticed a couple of minuscule scratches, this is a print in good shape. Clarity and detail are strong, while an appropriate level of film grain enhances the proceedings.
The DTS Master Audio 2.0 track is simple but serves the film well. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout. Effects are appropriate, and Andre Previn’s bouncy score sounds surprisingly full. English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available ported over from the 2002 DVD:
- Helen Rose Interview (SD, 5:12) A brief interview with the costume designer who died in 1985.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:31)
Movie title: Designing Woman (1957)
Director(s): Vincente Minnelli
Actor(s): Gregory Peck , Lauren Bacall , Dolores Gray , Sam Levene, Tom Helmore , Jesse White
Genre: Romance, Comedy