by Allan Fish
(USA 1932 82m) DVD1
It must be marvellous
p/d Ernst Lubitsch w Samson Raphaelson, Grover Jones play “The Honest Finder” by Laszlo Aladar ph Victor Milner ed Merrill White m W.Franke Harling art Hans Dreier cos Travis Banton
Herbert Marshall (Gaston Monescu), Miriam Hopkins (Lily Vautier), Kay Francis (Mariette Colet), Edward Everett Horton (François Filiba), Charles Ruggles (the Major), C.Aubrey Smith (Adolph Giron), Robert Greig (Jacques the butler), Leonid Kinskey (revolutionary), George Humbert, Luis Alberni, Rolfe Sedan,
I hardly know where to begin discussing the innumerable merits of Ernst Lubitsch’s masterpiece. Truly great film comedies are rare and it’s the director’s own individual style that makes them great. But without wishing to overlook the merits of such masters as Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Frank Capra, George Cukor and Mitchell Leisen, none of them ever really got to grips with that rarest of styles; pure unadulterated sophistication. The sort of the film that is sublime to the nth degree and sublime in its ridiculousness without ever in itself being ridiculous.
Of course such films as Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story were sophisticated, but brilliant though that film is, its sophistication belongs to a more moral age, an age where Tracy Lord can go for a swim with a fellow and even kiss him, without any sense of any immorality having taken place. Crooks such as Sydney Kidd are looked upon and viewed as slimeballs not to be trusted as far as you could throw them. Trouble in Paradise meanwhile belongs to an altogether more risqué period, when sophistication stretched to sexual dalliance and sophisticated badinage exchanged not just to insult and get one up, but as foreplay.
The story concerns a young couple of jewel thieves who, upon leaving Venice, team up to rob blind the heiress of a large Parisian jewellers. When the thief falls in love with his potential victim, his partner in crime takes matters into her own hands. If the story in itself isn’t up to much, it’s the handling that makes it and Lubitsch and his genius screenwriter partner Samson Raphaelson weave the sort of deliciously immoral tale (oh, for the days when thieves got away with it before the supreme killjoy Will H.Hays put a stop to it) that makes you root for characters who are, to all intents and purposes, rats.
It was a brave venture at the time for Lubitsch, coming as it did on the back of the failure of his first straight film Broken Lullaby and not including the music that made his Chevalier classics The Smiling Lieutenant and One Hour With You so popular. But Trouble in Paradise was to prove his greatest film, as well as the greatest film of everyone involved. Draped in the sets and costumes of Hans Dreier and Travis Banton, the film reeks of class, the script is the cinematic equivalent of an Oscar Wilde play or a Rossini overture (“marriage is a beautiful mistake which two people make together. With you it would be a mistake…”) and Lubitsch’s direction is so on the nose as to be uncanny. Most impressively of all we have the delicious performances of Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis, ably supported by such stalwarts as Edward Everett Horton, C.Aubrey Smith and Charles Ruggles, all of whom combine to perfection, making it all seem spontaneous when in reality Lubitsch was a master of preparation.
In recent times Lubitsch has become associated with his later films. To Be Or Not To Be is worthy of attention, but Heaven Can Wait, The Shop Around the Corner and Ninotchka, though excellent, are not truly great and it’s only their availability and the lack of sightings of his earlier work that has lead to this sorry state of affairs. In the UK, Trouble in Paradise has not been seen on TV since May 1989 and only turned up on DVD in 2012. My advice is to get it or the Criterion DVD from the U.S. a.s.a.p. because when it is deleted we may see Hale Bopp comet before we see Lubitsch’s crowning glory again. As long as this film can be seen, we can all see the moon in the champagne as often as we like it and never mind must, it will be marvellous.
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