Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 17, 2018)
Hollywood legends Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck starred together only twice, with the second instance a “late career” 1993 TV movie called The Portrait. For a glimpse of Bacall and Peck in their primes, we go to 1957’s Designing Woman.
While on vacation, sportswriter Mike Hagen (Peck) and fashion designer Marilla Brown (Bacall) meet, fall in love and impulsively decide to marry. After they come home to New York, they start to discover flaws in this plan.
Mike likes sports and “common folk” while Marilla prefers a hoity-toity crowd and fancy parties. The two try to work through their differences and succeed in marriage.
Leave out the romantic side and that sounds an awful lot like a theme Neil Simon would subsequently “borrow” for The Odd Couple. Of course, Designing Woman didn’t invent the ages-old concept of the mismatched couple, but the use of sportswriters in both raises my eyebrow.
Connections aside, Woman holds up fine on its own, largely due to the charms of its actors. With a light comedy such as this, performances become more important, and this clan does well.
If I felt forced to generate a minor gripe, though, I’d opine that the movie miscasts Peck, as he doesn’t seem quite right for Mike. Our lead male should probably lean more Oscar Madison and seem more like a bit of a reprobate, whereas Peck’s inherent dignity doesn’t allow him to follow that path.
This offers a negative result because we don’t get the contrast between Mike and Marilla we need. Mike should come across as somewhat “low-brow”, but Peck’s general sense of class keeps him from the seediness we require.
That does exist as a minor complaint, as Peck seems likable and charming, even if he comes across as too upper crust for the part. He and Bacall show nice chemistry and add appeal at the top of the ticket.
Woman comes with a useful supporting cast as well. You’ll find plenty of recognizable character actors in the film, and the entire group manages to add mirth and charm to the proceedings.
At almost two hours, Woman does threaten to overstay its welcome, as I think a light comedy like this should lean toward a tighter, breezier 100 minutes or so. It also comes with too many plot convolutions that seem unnecessary.
For instance, a major aspect of the movie involves a threat to Mike posed by a gangster. I believe the story could lose this thread entirely and be better for it, as the narrative just gets murky along the way.
Still, Woman entertains despite its flaws. A good cast and a lot of comedic charm make it enjoyable.