Friday, January 6, 2012

13. DESIGN FOR LIVING (1964, TV)

Included as a supplement on Criterion's DVD and Blu-ray of Ernst Lubitsch's 1933 feature adaptation is this feature-length video performance of the original play, which is a necessary companion to appreciating just how different the two works are and how inspired Lubitsch's vision truly was.

Introduced by Noël Coward himself and broadcast as part of a Granada Television (UK) series called A CHOICE OF COWARD, this production stars Daniel Massey, Jill Bennett and John Wood. Here, the threesome are already cheating on one another as the play begins, and instead of seeing genuine attraction between the cast members, they each seem driven to some kind of giggly, exclusive-club mania by the presence of the other two. Coward's dialogue has wisdom in it, but the actors -- who don't bother to rein in their stage performances for TV-- rush through it, often underlining their witticisms with arch body language that could be read from the cheap seats. Wit becomes something else again when it's chronic, carbonated and incessant. Massey is fairly insufferable, Wood not much better, but Jill Bennett -- whom you may know from THE SKULL, THE NANNY or BRITANNIA HOSPITAL -- makes quite an interesting contrast to Miriam Hopkins, not unlike early Glenda Jackson in her elfin appeal, though each of the actors look just odd enough to make them seem less like adventurous, tradition-flaunting lovers than like a troika of gremlins hellbent on making a noisy spectacle of their viva'd difference. Future MONTY PYTHON bit player Carol Cleveland has a small part as half of an unhappy conventional marriage.

Viewed on Criterion Blu-ray disc.

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