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‹ Flicks with The Film Snob

Trouble in Paradise

June 2, 2024
Flicks with The Film Snob
Flicks with The Film Snob
Trouble in Paradise

A classic film about lovers who are jewel thieves represents the height of style from director Ernst Lubitsch.

A fortunate director can point to one picture in which all the elements came together to create something close to perfection. In the case of the great Ernst Lubitsch, the man who brought continental sophistication to Hollywood, that movie was Trouble in Paradise, released in 1932. It was Lubtisch’s favorite among his own films, and posterity has been almost unanimous in proclaiming it his best.

Gaston and Lily (played by Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins) are lovers in Paris. They are also high class jewel thieves. To pull off the biggest heist of their careers, they insinuate themselves into the confidence of the wealthy Madame Colet (played by Kay Francis). Unfortunately, Gaston finds himself falling for the charming widow.

The dialogue (by Laszlo Aladar who also wrote the Astaire-Rogers classic Top Hat), is polished and witty, employing all the virtues of drawing room comedy, while at the same time poking fun at the pretensions of that genre. Lubitsch’s camera placement and timing couldn’t be better. With its brightly lit, purposely artificial set design, marvelous costumes, and creamy visual texture, the film represents the height of early Paramount style. It is also devoid of moralistic twaddle. The main characters are thieves with no apologies, and the movie makes it clear that their rich victims are just thieves of another order. Trouble in Paradise has an air of freedom from hypocrisy, and that makes it escapism in the best sense, a joyous relief from ponderousness. It was made, of course, just prior to the imposition of the Production Code, which put a damper on creativity in American film. That Madame Colet has taken her secretary (Marshall) as a lover, or that in fact people do go to bed with one another without being married (as silly as it seems to say this nowadays), is as clear as can be without ever being stated explicitly.

And then we have dialogue such as the following between Hopkins and Marshall: “This woman has more than jewelry. Did you ever take a good look at her….” “Certainly.” “They’re all right, aren’t they?” “Beautiful. What of it? As far as I’m concerned, her whole sex appeal is in that safe.” “Oh, Gaston. Let’s open it right now. Let’s get away from here.” “No, sweetheart. There’s more sex appeal coming on the first of the month – 850 thousand francs.” And so forth. They also have a routine (imitated many times since in lesser films) where they pick each other’s pockets while being romantic. At one point Gaston says, “You don’t mind if I keep your garter?” which he produces from his pocket, giving it a little kiss.

Herbert Marshall, whom I usually find unbearably wooden, is perfect here as an urbane rascal. The underappreciated Kay Francis has marvelous energy and wit: her scenes with Marshall are delicious. If I had to make one complaint (I know, it is heresy to make any), it would be that Miriam Hopkins overdoes things somewhat in her part. She seems a bit too coarse, I think, but this is a mere quibble. With good supporting work from Edward Everett Horton and Charles Ruggles, Trouble in Paradise is a paragon of light entertainment, one of the best examples of what the studio system in Hollywood, with the right mix of talent, could achieve.

jewel thieves,   lovers,   social comedy,   sophistication,   wit,  


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