Aug 1, 2018

On Blu-ray: Bacall and Peck in Designing Woman (1957)

There’s a particular kind of mood that a film like Vincente Minnelli’s Designing Woman (1957) fulfills. It doesn’t go deep, but sometimes it is the beautiful milieu you deeply desire. Everyone onscreen looks well groomed, even the people who are supposed to be slobs, the sets are gorgeous, the clothes a marvel of construction, every character has something funny to say, and no one ever seems to truly suffer. Now on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, this bit of cinematic eye candy looks even better.

Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall star as a sportswriter and fashion designer respectively, who meet cute, then ugly, then cute again and quickly marry. They barely know each other, which makes adjusting to daily life together an adventure. Her friends are arty, his are gruff. Clearly these social circles are hilariously not going to mesh well. And then there’s Peck’s ex, a sexy, and intellectually substantial showgirl played by eternal film stealer Dolores Gray.

There’s also a subplot about a gangster out to get Peck, but for the most part Designing Woman addresses the problem of how these people who are profoundly attracted to each other are going to bear living with each other. It’s a serious subject approached with hardly a forehead crease of concern.

Peck and Bacall don’t set off fireworks together romantically, but they are a pleasing comedy team. Both are more famous for dramas, but did just fine drawing laughs if they had the right script. This is perhaps the most success they both had in the genre, though Bacall's haughtily hilarious performance in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) is a contender.

Gray owns all of her scenes, firmly equating sex appeal and class. She was made for the colorful, Cinemascope fifties, with her magnetic, if not too showy glamour and penchant for elegantly dominating a room. She’s also got a seductively lovely singing voice which she gets to show off in the production numbers There'll Be Some Changes Made and Music Is Better than Words both of which she is performing for a television camera, an amusing set up in that age.

For a film that looks so good, it isn’t surprising that the idea for it came from costume designer Helen Rose, who also created the costumes for Designing Woman. I'm sure plenty of ideas like that came from staff behind the scenes who didn’t get credit. Here Rose not only got credit, but her involvement was used to promote the film. One of the special features on the Blu-ray is an awkward, but amusing "interview" with Rose, where she filmed responses to pre-written questions for the use of the media.

In addition to the Rose interview, the disc includes a trailer for the film.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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