Designing Woman

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

As the MGM lion roared for, what it seemed like, the one-millionth time, in my apartment I had to wonder…when did this lion die? Yes, that’s what I was thinking as the credits of Designing Woman showed up on my screen. Aside from the television series about ten years ago (titled "Designing Women"), I had never heard of this movie. While the director, Vincent Minnelli is a well-known name to me and the stars of Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck are no strangers either, I had to admit that I had no idea as to what to expect. Minnelli is most widely-known for his efforts on the Academy Award Winning "Gigi" in which he won Best Director and the Gene Kelly vehicle, "An American in Paris" which took home 6 Oscars (including one for Best Picture) and earned a noted place among the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 movies of all time. While we know Peck from his Oscar-Winning role as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and we know Bacall as a trusty sidekick of Bogart, these two seemed to hit it off together in a movie that was a Romantic Comedy before the genre was actually invented.

Gregory Peck portrays Mike Haagen. Mike is a sportswriter for a New York paper who is on vacation in California. While covering a golf tournament, he promptly wins $1200 on it and becomes the life of a party. Waking up confused and hung over, he discovers that not only is most of his money gone, but he isn’t sure if he made his deadline for his story or not. This is when we meet Marilla (Lauren Bacall) whose raspy voice would put even Katleen Turner to shame! It’s not long that after Marilla and Mike meet again (they had met the night before, though Mike cannot recall) that they instantly fall in love and promptly get married. This, of course, is only half of the problems that they face. Granted, this is 1957 and marrying just after you meet was socially acceptable (so I’m told), but the problem for these two is that they realize that they know absolutely nothing about one another. Even Mike asks while on the plane back to New York "Where do you live, anyway?" Mike, feeling inadequate, decides to investigate a story to prove to that he is up to the challenge of what he’s worth.

These days, romantic comedies are a dime a dozen. Most of which are populated by Meg Ryan. But take two classic actors, who know what they’re doing, team them up with a great director who is known for his use of music and the lens and you have something. Taking home an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Designing Woman was no flash in the pan. I might also add that one of the better benefits of being able to review these DVD’s is that I constantly discover movies that I’ve never seen before. Some, like "Singin’ in the Rain", "Double Indemnity" and "High Noon" have become instant classics for me, so if you’re a fan of these late 50’s romances, then Designing Woman might just be what you’re looking for.

Video: How does it look?

Designing Woman has been presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that looks rather good for a movie some 45 years old. We are lucky that Warner (MGM) has such a large library of such vaunted classics, as they are most always given the best treatment that they deserve. The colors appear very sharp and well-defined here. There wasn’t any problem with edge enhancement, just a bit with some digital artifacting. Though, considering the age of this film, I was more than surprised with how well this looked. Not a perfect transfer, by any means, but it gets the job done and is the best-looking version of this film that has ever graced any screen.

Audio: How does it sound?

There’s not much you can say about a mono track, so I won’t. I will say that the opening scene in which Mike is hung over is a bit funny. The channel exaggerates the sounds on the screen to give the feeling that he’s in a dream-like state and hence, doesn’t really know what he’s doing. A neat little trick (they do the same visually as well), that tests the limit of the monophonic sound. Dialogue is surprisingly clean and well-defined despite the film’s age. A nice job here, as I was expecting a lot worse.

Supplements: What are the extras?

While there aren’t a lot of extras to be found here, some cast bios are present as is the original theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen. There is also a section for the Academy Award it took home and a 5 minute interview with the Costume Designer, Helen Rose. Rose is shown in 1957 for a "Q & A" session with reporters, so her responses are a bit lagging (as we can’t hear what the questions are, just her answers) but it’s a nice featurette to have included. I have to say that with the two main actors still alive (Peck and Bacall), it’s kind of a shame that some kind of audio commentary wasn’t included or a retrospective documentary. Still, the film is a pleasant surprise to most who view it for the first time and the DVD makes it that much more interesting to watch.

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