Designing Woman (Vincente Minnelli / U.S., 1957)

All of Vincente Minnelli's comic training (in Father of the Bride and Father's Little Dividend) pays off in Gregory Peck's splendid break-up scene with Dolores Gray, where her dumping of a plate of ravioli on his lap is shot to fit George Cukor's description of Garbo sweeping down to pick up a fan ("a dancer's movement... like Isadora Duncan"). The central he said/she said contrast is between the sportswriter's untidy office and the fashion designer's palatial nest, filled with Peck and Lauren Bacall's impeccable modulations from the Tracy-Hepburn school. Their meeting takes place at a soirée recalled a la Les Girls; a hangover renders the sky a pale magenta but Metrocolor pinks and blues fill the rest of the courtship, by the end of the day they're married and back in New York City. Matrimonial bliss is put to the test by mixing the two worlds very elegantly across the widescreen -- the poker session presided over by Peck's choleric boss (Sam Levene) is held next to the gang of society swells circled around Bacall's flaming Broadway-auteur client (Jack Cole), the screen separating the camps is promptly lifted. More than the Runyonesque thugs chasing Peck, the threat to the couple is Gray's comic vamp: Minnelli introduces her in a memento from It's Always Fair Weather positioned just back enough to lend a glimpse of the studio apparatus, then triggers the rivalry with a trio of jump-cuts visualizing a torn tell-tale picture coming together in the heroine's mind. (Martin Scorsese paid particular attention to this, and also to the newspaper gag at the boxing ring.) A sunny view of artistic self-awareness slicing past gaiety, as is the filmmaker's wont -- Peck acknowledges the "series of wardrobe changes," but Minnelli is closer to irrepressibly queer-eyed Cole, who knows that a good cinematic brawl is a matter of choreography. With Tom Helmore, Mickey Shaughnessy, Jesse White, Chuck Connors, and Edward Platt.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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