#348) Trouble in Paradise (1932)

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#348) Trouble in Paradise (1932)

OR “Thief Encounter”

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

Written by Samson Raphaelson and Grover Jones. Based on the play “The Honest Finder” by Aladar Laszlo.

Class of 1991

No trailer, but here’s a clip

The Plot: Wealthy socialites Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) and Lily Vautier (Miriam Hopkins) meet in Venice and are instantly attracted to each other. Gaston and Lily reveal to each other that they are both con artists, and decide to team up to rob Paris perfumery magnate Mariette Colet (Kay Francis). Things get complicated when Gaston starts to have feelings for Mariette, and he begins to question the con. Added to the mix are Mariette’s two suitors Francois Filiba and The Major (Edward Everett Horton and Charlie Ruggles), and the kind of light, sophisticated comedy Ernst Lubitsch has become known for.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film a “frothy gem” with “saucy dialog”. The write-up goes on to describe the “Lubitsch Touch” as “an easy comedic elegance which characterized the films of director Ernst Lubtisch”.

But Does It Really?: I had never seen “Trouble in Paradise”, and I was charmed by its light humor and risqué subject matter. That being said, I’m surprised that it’s not only on the NFR, but made it in its third go-round. The “Lubitsch Touch” was already represented on the NFR with “Ninotchka” the year prior, and I’m amazed “Trouble in Paradise” made the cut before “To Be or Not To Be” or “The Shop Around the Corner”. I’ll give “Trouble in Paradise” a “minor classic” designation: an enjoyable film that holds up well, but not in the same league as some of Lubitsch’s other classics.

Everybody Gets One: Both Herbert Marshall and Kay Francis were big stars in their day that are not well remembered today. Kay Francis was a stage actor who made her film debut in “The Cocoanuts” with the Marx Brothers, and was a few years away from becoming the biggest star on the Warner Bros. lot. Herbert Marshall also started on the stage, a career that was interrupted by WWI. During his service, Marshall was shot in his right knee by a sniper, and his entire leg was amputated. After the war, Marshall returned to the stage, and transitioned to film in the late ‘20s, all the while keeping his prosthetic leg out of the limelight.

Wow, That’s Dated: It was a lot easier to be an international thief before the internet. In addition, this film features switchboard operators, radio programs, and a then-current reference to the Stock Market Crash.

Take a Shot: No one says the title, but we do get a title song performed by noted tenor Donald Novis.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar love for “Trouble in Paradise”, but the film did make the National Board of Review’s year-end Top Ten list. Ernst Lubitsch received three Best Director nominations in his career, but never won. He did, however, receive an honorary award from the Academy in March 1947, eight months before his death.

Other notes

  • “Trouble in Paradise” only bares a passing resemblance to its source material “The Honest Finder”. Lubitsch encouraged Raphaelson to not read the play and base the film on George Manolescu, a real-life con artist at the turn of the century. Co-writer Grover Jones contributed very little to the actual screenplay; his credit was a contractual obligation to Paramount.
  • This film is technically leaps and bounds ahead of other early sound films. For starters, there’s an underscore! It’s still early days, but it helps highlight the romanticism of the whole thing. We also get a couple of montages throughout “Paradise”, which means scene wipes a-plenty!
  • Miriam Hopkins strikes me as Lubitsch’s proto-Carole Lombard. She doesn’t quite have Lombard’s combination of funny and sexy, but she’s close. I suspect Lombard’s rise to prominence was the cause of Hopkins’ decline in the late ‘30s.
  • I must say Herbert Marshall is quite charming in this film. It’s a shame he doesn’t have more classics on the resume.
  • Speaking of Marshall: watch closely during the shots where Gaston runs up and down stairs. Because of Marshall’s aforementioned war injury, he used a double for any shots involving strenuous physical activity.
  • Oh man, that is the most suggestive dissolve I’ve ever seen. Gaston and Lili are holding each other on a chaise, followed by a dissolve to an empty chaise. Quel scandale.
  • Fun Fact: Both Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton would go on to become regular voice actors on “Rocky & Bullwinkle”.
  • Oh Edward Everett Horton, how I’ve missed your double take.
  • Kay Francis doesn’t strike me as your sexy leading lady-type, but I’m happy to be proven wrong. My favorite line is her sultry reading of “Because I want to make it tough for you.”
  • Another risqué pre-code moment: Gaston and Mariette have an intimate moment while their shadows are projected onto a bed. The censor boards must have had a fit with that one.
  • Ultimately, I feel the same way about “Trouble in Paradise” as I did “The Thin Man”: it’s a well-crafted screenplay with charming performances, but overall the film has lost some of its initial luster. Still enjoyable, but not the first on anyone’s must-see list.

Legacy

  • “Trouble in Paradise” was successful in its day, but once the Hays Code went into full effect, the film more or less disappeared. The Production Code denied a potential 1935 re-release, as well as a planned musical remake in 1943. “Paradise” didn’t make the late night movie circuit until 1958, where it started to get rediscovered.
  • Everyone involved in “Trouble in Paradise” went on to bigger and better. As previously stated, Lubitsch had his share of classics coming up, and Kay Francis became Warner Bros.’ number one star, until Bette Davis came along and Francis was labeled “box office poison”. Herbert Marshall transitioned from dashing leading man to dashing character actor, most memorably as Bette Davis’ sickly husband in “The Little Foxes”.
  • Miriam Hopkins’ star also rose after “Trouble in Paradise”, leading to an Oscar-nominated performance in “Becky Sharp”, the first film made in three-strip Technicolor. Like Marshall, she transitioned to supporting turns, most notably as Olivia De Havilland’s aunt in her other NFR entry: “The Heiress”.
  • Wes Anderson listed “Trouble in Paradise” among the influences on “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, particularly with Ralph Fiennes’ character. Yeah, I see it.
  • And of course, the film’s long-gestating drastic departure of a sequel: “Stranger Than Paradise”. Fact: Before I started this blog I could not have told you the difference between these two films. Talk about night and day.

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