Friday, September 2, 2011

#392. Trouble in Paradise (1932)

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.


Joel G. Robertson said...

Dave, Great review! What I love about your site is the eclectic nature of the movies you review. It really motivates me to expand my cinematic pallette. I'm familiar with Lubitsch in name only and will be adding TROUBLE IN PARADISE to my "must watch" list thanks to your review.

Best, Joel

Dave B. said...

Joel: Thank you, sir! Glad you're enjoying it.

Lubitsch is a filmmaker I came to late as well (not sure why). I've thus far seen 3 of his films: this one, SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING. I'd recommend all of them. Still have to check out TO BE OR NOT TO BE, supposedly his classic (though I've seen the Mel Brooks remake, and enjoyed it).

Also, I'm a bit behind on my podcast listening, but I did greatly enjoy the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE/GARBAGE PAIL KIDS discussion (I guess I'm lucky...I haven't seen EITHER of those movies).

Everyone be sure to check out Joel and co-host, Jason, on the Forgotten Flix podcast )

Thanks again!

Robert M. Lindsey said...

Loved Trouble in Paradise, even though it's about crooks.

To Be or Not To Be is a must! I knew nothing about it when I saw it except it was a comedy with Jack Benny and Carol Lombard. It opens with "Poland, 1939" on the screen. I said "WHAT?!? A comedy based in 1939 Poland?" But it was fantastic.

The Shop Around the Corner didn't grab me, I probably need to watch it again.

Dave B. said...

Robert: Yeah, this is a classic.

Full disclosure: I have NEVER seen the original TO BE OR NOT TO BE (I caught the Mel Brooks/Anne Bancroft remake in the theater back in 1984), but everyone I've heard from tells me it's a classic, so I'll have to add it to the "short list"

And I enjoyed THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, though admittedly not as much as TROUBLE IN PARADISE. Another interesting Lubitsch film is THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING, with Merle Oberon and Burgess Meredith.