Pros: Script, Sets, Camerawork, Direction
1932’s Trouble in Paradise is director Ernst Lubitsch’s masterpiece.
The term sophisticated comedy was defined by movies like this one but few (and I’m including Billy Wilder, George Cukor classics) were as good as this. If you've heard of anyone talking about ‘the Lubitsch touch' here's one of the best examples of the unique director at his very best.
Set in the world of the rich with a smooth sophisticated continental wit, Lubitsch cooks up an elegant frothy comic gem. It’s utterly unrepentantly hedonistic, funny and pre-Hollywood Code censorship daring in terms of ideas and themes without ever being crude or low-brow.
It was the first non-musical ‘talkie’ Ernst Lubitsch directed and it combines the developed smooth silent movie camerawork he had perfected with rhythmic sounding dialogue that sparkles with wit and rare classy double entendres. I discovered the fourth or fifth time I saw it, how clocks and time-pieces were a constant referenced motif (and good comedies require the right sort of timing, right?). Since one of the characters is involved in the perfume business, you’ll find there’s a connection to some supporting characters snooping, following and 'sniffing' after others. The superb Criterion disc presenting the film in near pristine fashion is packed with excellent extras and very much worth owning.
Two jewel thieves (Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins) have fallen madly, truly, in love, but their relationship and their latest heist is threatened when he starts flirting with the thieves' newest female victim (Kay Francis). Herbert Marshall becomes one of the most suave, romantic characters in movies under Lubitsch's direction. Nothing coarse, crude or crass is shown, this is sophistication at its best where people have sexual desires but the most we see are shadows, suggestive looks, charm and good manners. Supporting players include Charles Rugles, and Edward Everett Horton.
For me to write much about how the plot develops (it opens romantically with a Venice prologue) would be to ruin some of Paradise’s pleasures for those who’ve never seen it. I envy them, because if you’ve a taste for classy sophisticated comedies, this is truly one of the very best. It was adapted from a Hungarian play by Laszlo Aladar by Samson Raphaelson and Grover Jones. Some of the verbal banter reminds me of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in 1959’s Hitchcock classic North by Northwest. The sets favor white on white art deco-stylings with grand silk clinging evening gowns, fancy jewelry, sweeping staircases, butlers, mannered airs and clever comic rifts on role-playing and mistaken identity.
DVD Extras include: a feature length commentary by Lubitsch biographer, Scott Eyman; A video introduction by Peter Bogdanovich; a 1917 Lubitsch silent film, The Merry Jail with Emil Jannings, a 1940 radio show featuring Lubitsch, Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert and Basil Rathbone and several written text tributes to Lubitsch.
A comic masterpiece.
©2012, Christopher J. Jarmick