Peck and Bacall have always been known for their dramatic performances in stark melodramas. In the 1940s, when both artists’ careers first flourished, they participated in projects that took advantage of their strong personalities. Considering both actors’ filmographies, it is a bit shocking to see them working for laughs in Vicente Minnelli’s goofy romantic comedy Designing Woman.
Despite a natural tendency of accepting these two actors only in dramatic roles, I must say that they succeed in this curious change of pace. Playing incompatible lovers that get married after knowing each other for just a few days, Peck and Bacall are quite amusing in the type of roles typically associated with Lucille Ball and Bob Hope, Doris Day and Rock Hudson, or Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn (in fact, Designing Woman, written by George Wells, shares lots of things with Woman of the Year, the classic 1942 Tracy-Hepburn comedy).
Peck, in particular, looks so out of his element that when he bursts into slapstick you can’t help but laugh precisely because it is weird to see him do funny faces. Peck displays a surprisingly good amount of charm and perfect comic timing.
This is a cute show that doesn’t hesitate in making fun of such sacred American institutions as marriage, fashions, and sports. Being an older title, sexism rears its ugly head, but this is something to be expected from a ’50s comedy. I also thought that the movie was a bit long and some of the subplots were totally unnecessary. The film is at its best when focused on Peck and Bacall.
Designing Woman was first proposed by famed costume designer Helen Rose. James Stewart and Grace Kelly were the first choices for the main roles, but Kelly’s early retirement changed everything. In an interesting move, MGM went against the trend, and chose two dramatic actors for the leading roles.
The cast also includes Dolores Gray (It’s Always Fair Weather), Mickey Shaughnessy (From Here to Eternity), Tom Helmore (Vertigo), Chuck Connors (The Big Country). Look closely for Dean Jones (The Love Bug) as an assistant stage manager.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Designing Woman is not perfect, but with a group of real professionals in front of and behind the camera, this film has all the ingredients of a fun romantic comedy. If you are a fan of any of the stars you won’t want to pass on this one. Color, 118 minutes, Not Rated.