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With: Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall, Charlie Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton, C. Aubrey Smith, Robert Greig
Written by: Grover Jones and Samson Raphaelson, based on a play by Laszlo Aladar
Directed by: Ernst Lubitsch
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 83
Date: 10/21/1932

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Paradise Found

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If there were any justice, Trouble in Paradise would be mentioned in the same breath with Some Like It Hot, and indeed, even Citizen Kane. But it's not, and that's because hardly anyone has seen it. It's not available on video (except in an expensive and out-of-print laserdisc box set) and it's rarely screened. But now the good folks at Universal, who now own much of Paramount's old product, have agreed to show their archive print at the Roxie for a week. All fans of romantic comedies, or even fans of great filmmaking, need to see this movie.

Director Ernst Lubitsch was one of the finest directors of his day, and indeed of all time, but doesn't seem to get the credit he deserves. The credit usually goes to Billy Wilder, who will be the first one to tell you that he owes everything to Lubitsch. (Wilder reportedly has a plaque in his office that asks, "How Would Lubitsch Do It?") Lubitsch had a style and a signature touch that was difficult to describe, but irrefutable once you saw it on screen. He began in silent film, but took to sound like a peanut butter sandwich takes to jelly. He's probably best known for his later films like Ninotchka (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and To Be or Not to Be (1942), but many consider Trouble in Paradise his best film.

The story concerns a glamorous thief, Monsieur Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) who meets a lady thief (the great Miriam Hopkins) while on the Riviera. They steal an expensive handbag from a perfume company magnate (Kay Francis). A plan to return it and collect the reward money quickly becomes an even bigger scheme to lift $850,000 francs from her. But l'amour steps in and disturbs the plan.

The Lubitsch touch occurs in the empty spaces between the jokes. For example, the movie contains many shots of Marhsall running up and down a staircase. The shots seemingly have no purpose, but they stretch out the surrounding sequences slightly, adding a small comic tension where none existed before. In another sequence, Marshall and Francis go out for dinner. Instead of showing us the whole sequence, Lubitsch shows nothing but a clock. It's early in the evening, and they prepare to leave, giggling to each other offscreen. Hours later, they're still gone. Still later, the phone rings-no one answers. Yet still later, the couple come stumbling in, still giggling. In another sequence, Lubitsch quickly cuts together images of the couple reflected in mirrors followed by a shot of their shadows lying next to one another on the bed.

I should mention the quality of the acting, especially by Miriam Hopkins, one of the great comediennes and romantic players of all time. Most of her films, like Trouble in Paradise are hard to see, but when you see her, you'll never forget her. Like Carole Lombard, she plays snappy, funny, and lovely all at once. In one scene, she's busy packing a suitcase and singing (La! La! La!) loudly to herself. As she imagines her true love in the arms of another woman, her singing dies down to a murmur. She dismisses it and the singing comes back up again. But she changes her mind again. The scene is perfectly timed and perfectly played, and absolutely hilarious.

If one considers that motion picture sound had only been in place for three years when Trouble in Paradise was made, the level of sophistication it shows is astonishing. The film does more than tell a story and develop goofy characters. A directorial presence hovers overhead, toying with us and teasing us. There's no question a master is guiding us. It's one of the 20th Century's truly great films, but all great films should be so much fun to watch.

DVD Details: An all-time great DVD transfer of an all-time great film. Director Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise was not only the peak of his magnificent career, but it has also inexplicably never been released on video (except as part of an expensive and out-of-print laserdisc box set). Made during the pre-code era, Trouble in Paradise manages a healthy blend of sophisticated humor and sexual innuendo. After pulling a job in Venice, a thief, Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) meets a lady thief posing as a Duchess (the great Miriam Hopkins). Together they flee to Paris and decide to rook perfume magnate Mme. Colet (Kay Francis) out of a fortune. Gaston poses as her secretary, but accidentally falls in love with her. Trouble in Paradise was Lubitsch's first non-musical talking film, and one of his last before the Hayes code set in. Though he's made many other great masterworks (Ninotchka, The Shop Around the Corner), this film remains his finest achievement. So great, in fact, that it revolutionized Hollywood and changed the way films were made. Criterion's superb DVD comes with various tributes to Lubitsch, a scholarly commentary track, and best of all, a 48-minute Lubitsch silent film, Das Fidele Gefangnis (The Merry Jail), showing the sophisticated director's trademark style in its early stages. (March 20, 2003)

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