Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch
Starring: Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall
Trivia: Released before the Production Code was in place, this film was not approved for re-release in 1935, at which time the code was being rigorously enforced.
Gaston (Herbert Marshall) is the most refined thief in all of Paris, or at least that's what he believed before meeting Lily (Miriam Hopkins), a woman whose skills at trickery and deceit are as elegant as his own. Together, the two devise a scheme by which they’ll bilk wealthy perfume executive Mariette Colet (Kay Francis) out of her vast fortune. Gaston sets himself up as Colet’s personal assistant, thus giving him ample opportunity to dip into her healthy bank account. But when Gaston inadvertently falls in love with Colet, an angry Lily demands that he make a choice: either stay on the straight and narrow of wealth and privilege, or come back to her for more adventures of the illegal variety.
Trouble in Paradise is a film of perfect sophistication, which is amazing when you consider it’s essentially a movie about crooks (dashing, urbane crooks, mind you, but crooks nonetheless). As the story opens, Gaston has invited Lily, whom he first sizes up as nothing more than an easy mark, for a romantic dinner in his hotel room. What he doesn’t know is Lily is also a thief, and wise to Gaston’s intentions. As the two are sitting across from each other at a makeshift dining table, Lily surprises Gaston by revealing, quite matter-of-factly, that she knows he’s “robbed the gentleman occupying rooms 253, 5, 7 and 9”. Gaston smiles, and informs Lily he has recently become fully aware of her background as well. How? Well, for starters, she’s just lifted the wallet of the gentleman in 253, 5, 7 and 9 from his side pocket! The exchange between the two grows wittier as the scene progresses. Lily asks Gaston for the time, a less than subtle way to get him to notice she’s stolen his watch. Gaston replies by asking Lily if he might be allowed keep her garter, which he’s just removed from her leg without her knowledge. At that, a love-struck Lily leaps into Gaston’s arms and kisses him. It’s a romance born in chicanery, but it is love nonetheless, and in the hands of director Ernst Lubitsch, it’s all handled quite gracefully.
But then grace and elegance were always Lubitsch’s strongest suits. After arriving in Hollywood from Germany in 1922, Lubitsch would direct a number of classy American comedies, including To Be or Not To Be, The Shop Around the Corner, and Heaven Can Wait. Yet as polished as these works are, Trouble in Paradise stands alone, a shining example of a talented director’s mastery of the sophisticated. Trouble in Paradise is 100% gold.