User Rating: Excellent
Pros:direction, script, cast, cinematography, characters
Cons:contrived ending, romanticized criminals
The Bottom Line: A charming and clever romantic comedy that has a first rate direction and script, this film is highly recommended to fans of classic cinema.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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In 1934, censors imposed a tight production code on Hollywood, which was a set of rules designed to improve the morality of the industry's films. No bad act went unpunished, sex between unmarried couples was unheard of, and even innuendo became taboo. Mae West became a sexual icon not because she resembled Britney Spears, but because she mastered a suggestive delivery that would circumvent the newly restrictive rules.
The Production Code gradually lost its teeth over the subsequent decades, and certainly many great films were made despite its presence. But the Code forced many sophisticated sex comedies from the early 1930s out of distribution, where they languished in obscurity for generations.
One of these films was Trouble in Paradise. A hopelessly 'immoral' comedy, it features a pair of lovable con artists named Gaston (Herbert Marshall) and Lily (Miriam Hopkins). They succeed in swindling perfume magnate Mariette (Kay Francis), and a foppish dolt (Edward Everett Horton), out of untold thousands of francs, and nonetheless live happily ever after. Well, Gaston may feel a tinge of regret, but only because there are times when he prefers a brunette, and then there's the 850,000 francs that passed him by.
Further, Gaston and Lily are not wed, but their sexual union is obvious. As is also the case with Gaston and Mariette. In one scene, Mariette infers that she could get Gaston to marry her if she wanted to, but that for now she'd rather have him on salary. Much of the dialogue would require redubbing if it was to be shown just a few years later.
But fortunately, the censors shelved the film rather than destroyed it. Unlike so many movies from the early sound era, it has not only survived, but is in great condition. Considered by many to be the best film by director Ernst Lubitsch, it certainly has the most risque scenes. Romantic shadows cast on beds. Do Not Disturb signs. Sounds of a door opening off camera.
While today's 'R' films even make the sexual positions of the romantic leads all too obvious, it is hard to believe that the 1932 scenes still have their wicked punch. But they do, because an experienced classic film viewer knows how they might have been made instead, especially if Doris Day had been first billed.
But even in pre-Code Hollywood, rascally con men cannot be complete scoundrels. Oblivious of the hypocrisy of their outrage, Gaston and corporate curmudgeon Giron (C. Aubrey Smith) work assiduously to prove that the other is the bigger swindler. Is Gaston a hero because he saves Lily millions while stealing only thousands? Does fraud discovered compensate for fraud performed? Ethical questions such as these are uniformly ignored by both critics and fans, who understandably would prefer to parse the script for double entendres.
Curiously, Trouble in Paradise was not nominated for any Academy Awards. The rarely seen film was added to the U.S. National Film Registry in 1991. While To Be or Not To Be (1942) is undoubtedly the best film by Lubitsch, Trouble in Paradise is probably his second best film. Although I reserve the right to change my mind the next time that I see The Merry Widow (1934). (78/100)
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8
Special Effects: Well at least you can't see the strings