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Film / Design for Living

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What a cute trio.

Design for Living is a 1933 film about a Love Triangle that ends in a One True Threesome.

No, really.

This film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, stars Miriam Hopkins, Gary Cooper, and Fredric March. Gilda Farrell (Hopkins) meets Tom Chambers and George Curtis, (March and Cooper respectively), who are old friends, on a train in France. They all get along together very well, and both Tom and George are attracted to Gilda. She in turn is attracted to both of them as well—but she can't figure out who to choose. They make a "gentleman's agreement" to go on as platonic friends, but when Tom is called away to London to produce his play (he's a playwright), George and Gilda fall into bed together, with Gilda saying "I'm no gentleman!".

Later, Tom returns to Paris, and with George away to paint a portrait on commission (George's an artist), Tom and Gilda fall in bed together. The confrontation when George gets back leads Gilda to break up with both of them and enter into a loveless consolation marriage with Max, her boss at the advertising company (she's a commercial artist). Gilda is stuck in a life of boring married tedium when Tom and George, having gotten past their jealousy, come to America and whisk Gilda away to live an exciting polyamorous life in Paris.

Seriously, this all happened in a 1933 film. Even for The Pre-Code Era, Design for Living was unusual. It was based on a play by Noël Coward, but kept little more than the title and the premise (even the names of the characters were changed).


  • Alcohol Hic: Downplayed. George does this once during their Drowning Our Romantic Sorrows session.
  • Anywhere but Their Lips: After deciding to move in with Tom and George, Gilda kisses both men on the forehead as part of the new "no sex" rule.
  • Call-Back: The Call Back to the "gentleman's agreement" that ends the film pretty clearly implies that Gilda will be having sex with both Tom and George, since she earlier said "It's true we had a gentleman's agreement, but unfortunately, I am no gentleman!" when going to bed with Tom.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: Discussed in passing by George who sarcastically notes that the appreciation for his art may only come after his death.
  • Delayed Reaction:
    • In the first scene, sleepy George notices Gilda's legs next to him but goes back into dreamland for a few seconds until it hits him.
    • At the theatre, Max laughs together with the crowd about the play's last line until he realizes that it was his line.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Max "didn't get to first base" with Gilda, but has been hanging around her for five years as her "friend", carping with disapproval about any other man she happens to date. She finally caves and marries him after leaving Tom and George. As she leaves him, Gilda remarks that all he really wanted was a wife to help his business, and she's done that.
  • Door Focus: George declares that he needs a clean shirt for the next day and leaves the flat for the cleaner. The camera lingers on the door and naturally George comes back to put on his shoes.
  • Double Entendre: Regarding George's portrait of Lady Godiva on a bicycle, Tom says "A bicycle seat is a little bit hard on Lady Godiva's historical background."
  • Dramatic Sitdown: Tom has to sit down when he receives the telegram telling him about George and Gilda having become an Official Couple.
  • Drowning Our Romantic Sorrows: Tom and George get drunk together after Gilda leaves them both.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Used to signal that the action has moved back to Paris from London.
  • Ethical Slut: Gilda, at the end when she agrees to enter into a polyamorous relationship with Tom and George.
  • Fairytale Wedding Dress: Gilda wears one for her wedding with Max.
  • Gilligan Cut: Tom, having received word that the producer wants him to come to London for the play, contemplates separation from George and Gilda and says "I'm not going!". Cut to Tom, boarding the train to London.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "So you've been making love to Gilda!"
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: George asks Tom to hit him when both get drunk. Tom declines.
  • I Don't Want to Ruin Our Friendship: Gilda says words to this effect when Max, who disapproves of her love life and pretty clearly wants her for himself, criticizes her boyfriends. Later, after leaving Tom and George, she breaks down and marries him.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: After reading Gilda's note telling him she's leaving him, Tom promptly downs two shots in quick succession.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Tom and George use this trick to get into Max's house.
  • It's All About Me: When meeting Max at the London theatre, Tom tries to get some information out of him about Gilda but all Max can think about is his painting.
  • Love Triangle: Tom, George, and Gilda, with a truly unusual ending.
  • Meet Cute: Gilda enters a train compartment that includes Tom and George, fast asleep. She draws a sketch of the two of them snoring.
  • Polyamory: The film ends as Tom, George, and Gilda all agree to date each other.
  • Pretty in Mink: Gilda in the closing scene.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: The film take place partly in Paris, and there is no Translation Convention; when characters speak French in-universe, their actors speaks their lines in French.
  • Right Behind Me: When Max vents about Tom while the latter stands right behind the bathroom door. Gilda tries to make Max stop by pretending to have a headache.
  • Rom Com Job: The three points of this Love Triangle are a painter, a commercial artist, and a playwright.
  • Sexless Marriage: Pretty strongly implied with Gilda and Max. He winds up leaving their bedroom in an angry huff on their wedding night. When Tom and George find Gilda, they're pleased to note that she's sleeping in a single bed.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Gilda wears this for the party Max is hosting at the end.
  • Starving Artist: Tom proudly declares "I write unproduced plays," and George freely admits his annual salary is zero and that he survives "on miracles." Later George notes, "Sacrifice helps an artist" and Tom agrees poetically with, "Sorrows of life are the joys of art."
  • Threesome Subtext: Well, they all three sure do like each other a lot. George comments on how he "loved you both". Gilda is pretty clearly going to be having sex with both of them, as indicated by the Call-Back to the "gentleman's agreement" line. And they are all three clasping hands as the film ends.
  • Time Skip: An advertisement announces that George's play is now in its tenth month.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Tom and Gilda see George off to London.
  • Twisted Echo Cut: When Max comes to see Tom, the latter tells him that he is deeply in love with Gilda. Cut to George kissing Gilda and confessing his love to her.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Is in the air once Gilda moves in with her two boyfriends. When Tom has to travel to London, the other two can't hold back any longer.