Vincente Minnelli's Designing Woman (1957) was marketed as a zany, action-filled romantic comedy, but it has a subtext that was unique for its time -- indeed, the original trailer's description of the movie as "riotously revealing" was almost unintentionally frank. Minelli's movie is very much an essay on manhood and the way it is perceived, by those who flaunt it and those who simply have it. The romantic comedy elements are reminiscent, in some respects, of the kind of movies that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy made during the 1940's, but they're almost incidental to the film's subtext -- the most striking element of the movie is the conflict not between Mike Hagen's (Gregory Peck) macho sportswriter and Marilla's (Lauren Bacall) sophisticated fashion designer, but the conflict between Mike and Marilla's choreographer friend Randy (Jack Cole, the movie's actual choreographer)). At one point, Mike seems ready to explode on the screen in what, today, would be regarded as a painful burst of homophobic invective against the flamboyant dancer, only to be interrupted by the man himself -- Randy enters the room grimly and angrily, pointing out that he is happily married with three children, one of whom plays college football, and then threatens to beat Hagen's ears off the next time they meet. This moment is the most serious in movie's whole two hours, and is more striking and memorable than any of the plot complications involving gangsters or careers or kidnapping; and it also anticipates the extraordinary denouement, in which the best that Mike and his macho,two-fisted friends can muster is the losing side of a near-draw with the thugs threatening him and his wife, when in walks Randy, who proceeds to pummel the hoods with his footwork, saving the day for the good guys and the woman they're trying to protect. With the very slight plot -- concerning the hoods who don't like Mike's sportswriting -- one can only deduce on watching the movie today, with two two essential scenes and its battle-of-the-sexes set-up of men and women trying to deal with each other's worlds, that the "real" point of Designing Woman was the issue of masculinity. This, in turn, may explain why Designing Woman remains an amazingly obscure film, given its two high-profile stars and director -- it's "about" issues and ideas that aren't easy to discuss or delineate, and is far more challenging and sophisticated than its plot description would indicate.
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Vincente Minnelli directed this sophisticated comedy, which owes a debt to Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn vehicles. Sportswriter Mike Hagen (Gregory Peck) and fashion designer Marilla (Lauren Bacall) are New Yorkers who meet while both are vacationing in California. It's love at first sight, and the two decide on the spur of the moment to get married. However, once they return to the Big Apple, it starts to occur to them just how different they are after Mike moves out of his sloppy bachelor lair in the Village and joins Marilla in her luxury flat on the Upper East Side. While they try to sort out their differences, Mike encounters his former girlfriend Lori (Dolores Gray), while Marilla runs into her onetime beau Zachary (Tom Helmore); given the haste with which they married, neither of their exes had yet heard that Mike and Marilla were hitched, and the notion that they could still be lured away hangs in the air. Meanwhile, Mike has written a series of articles exposing corruption in boxing, which earns him no friends among some ill-mannered Gotham mobsters. Bacall's sparkling comic performance was a remarkable display of personal strength; as the movie was being filmed, her husband Humphrey Bogart was suffering from the last stages of the cancer that would soon claim his life.