Cooper, Coward, Lubitsch, and Hecht in this racy pre-code classic

Written by Ben Hecht (who took major liberties in adapting Noël Coward’s play), and directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, Design for Living set Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and Miriam Hopkins up in a ménage à trois. The result was one of the raciest films of the 1930s. (Out this week, on DVD, from the Criterion Collection.)

Cooper—a last-minute replacement for Douglas Fairbanks Jr.—is a painter named George Curtis. March is a playwright named Tom Chambers. Hopkins’s Gilda Farrell is the commercial artist who can’t quite choose between them (and eventually finds that she needn’t choose at all). Cooper, having only just entered his thirties, is remarkably handsome, and Hopkins is ebullient and effervescent (she deserves to be remembered for more than her feud with Bette Davis). But March’s slyness, charm, and impeccable timing carry the day.

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