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Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
The 1932 Hollywood film "Trouble in Paradise" has been considered a masterpiece of world cinema for decades, and it's included in nearly every list of 100 greatest films that I've seen. However, the number of people who have seen this movie is small because its availability for either home or theatrical viewing has been extremely limited for many years. But at last, Criterion Collection released the film on DVD in January, 2003, and I give it my highest possible recommendation.
"Trouble in Paradise" is a sophisticated romantic comedy that, although made at a major Hollywood studio, has an auteur feel to it. That's because it's directed by the legendary Ernst Lubitsch, and it appears to me that he brought something of the Berlin intellectual sensibility to his films. "The Lubitsch Touch" became the catch phrase for the feeling the great director was able to impart to his movies, and I think "Trouble in Paradise" perfectly embodies that catch phrase.
Early in the film we meet an elegant man (Herbert Marshall) who is posing as a baron. The "Baron" is preparing to entertain a woman in his Venice hotel suite, and he instructs a waiter, "It must be the most marvelous supper. We may not eat it, but it must be marvelous."
The "Baron's" guest (Miriam Hopkins) arrives at his suite, and he at first believes she's a countess. But it eventually emerges that she's a high-class pickpocket named Lily. Before long Lily gets the "Baron" to admit he's actually a thief named Gaston Monescu, "the man who walked into the Bank of Constantinople and walked out with the Bank of Constantinople."
During supper, Gaston and Lily fall in love with each other. She's soon lying on a couch, welcoming his kisses. He tells her tenderly, "I'm mad about you. My little shoplifter. My sweet little pickpocket. My darling." Shortly thereafter he hangs the "DO NOT DISTURB" sign on the door.
The setting shifts to Paris, where we meet a rich and good-looking widow named Mariette Colet (Kay Francis). Madame Colet has two middle-aged suitors who do not interest her. As she tells one of them, "You see, François, marriage is a beautiful mistake which two people make together. But with you, François, I think it would be a mistake."
Then Gaston and Lily, who have been living together for a year, turn up in Paris, where Gaston manages to talk his way into a job as Madame Colet's assistant. His plan is to steal a large sum of money from the wealthy widow and flee with Lily. But a strong romantic attraction develops between Gaston and Madame Colet, and finally he admits to her, "I came here to rob you, but unfortunately I fell in love with you."
But Gaston's attraction to Madame Colet alarms Lily, who tells him at one point, "I want you as a crook. I love you as a crook. I worship you as a crook. Steal, swindle, rob! Oh, but don't become one of those useless, good-for-nothing gigolos."
The dialogue in "Trouble in Paradise" is extraordinarily witty, but I like the look of the film as well. Women in wonderful dresses and men in fine suits glide gracefully through an art-deco world. At one point, we see the shadows of a man and woman on a double bed, and then the silhouettes kiss. The movie is loaded with sexual innuendo, yet Lubitsch handled everything with exquisite taste.
I like Herbert Marshall a lot as the film's debonair leading man. (Marshall lost a leg in World War I, but it's not noticeable in the movie.) I also think Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis are both very appealing as the two women Marshall's character must choose between. The supporting actors are terrific as well, particularly Edward Everett Horton and Charles Ruggles, who play Francis' character's suitors.
I rate "Trouble in Paradise" as one of the handful of greatest comedies ever made. The DVD provides a good scholarly commentary track and some other worthwhile features, which I've listed below. This DVD is a must-have for the serious cinephile.
Special Features of the DVD:
Commentary With Lubitsch Biographer Scott Eyman
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