Powered by Blogger.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE, 1932.


TROUBLE IN PARADISE. COMEDY. CRIME. ROMANCE. & GENTLEMANLY ELEGANT. 

MIRIAM HOPKINS - LILY
KAY FRANCIS - MADAME MARIETTE COLET
HERBERT MARSHALL - GASTON MONESCU
CHARLES RUGGLES - THE MAJOR
EDWARD EVERETT HORTON - FRANCOIS FILIBA
C. AUBREY SMITH - ADOLPH J. GIRON
ROBERT GRIEG - JACQUES

A GENIUS OF A FILM BY DIRECTOR ERNST LUBITSCH, "the Lubitsch touch." A touch that defines time and changes of pictures. It alludes to the director's delicate, detailed hand, his smart humor that is witty and sophisticated, and his economy with images and words. And this picture, from nineteen thirty-two, is one of his best, most charming pictures. 

DIRECTOR - ERNEST LUBITSCH 
SCREENPLAY - SAMSON RAPHAELSON 
ADAPTATION BY - GROVER JONES
FROM A PLAY BY - ALADAR LASZLO
CINEMATOGRAPHY - VICTOR MILNER
ART DIRECTION - HANS DREIER 
COSTUMER DESIGN - TRAVIS BANTON

There are scenes is this gem (pun intended) of a picture that acts like verbal foreplay instead of simple exchanges. Like an early scene for example, in which Gaston, one of the boldest thieves in the world, who having stolen some jewels, returns to his hotel suite to have a private dinner with Lily, who is posing as a countess, him a baron. The exchange is quick and smart and delectable, showing us the tone for the rest of the picture. 



"YOU KNOW," SAYS LILY, "WHEN I FIRST SAW YOU, I THOUGHT YOU WERE AN AMERICAN." 

"THANK YOU," GASTON GRAVELY REPLIES. 

"SOMEONE FROM ANOTHER WORLD, SO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT. OH! (in the only way Miriam Hopkins can) ONE GETS TO TIRED OF ONE'S OWN CLASS - PRINCES AND COUNTS AND DUKES AND KINGS! EVERYBODY TALKING SHOP. ALWAYS TRYING TO SELL JEWELRY. THEN I HEARD YOUR NAME AND FOUND OUT YOU WERE JUST ONE OF USE."

"DISAPPOINTED?"

"NO, PROUD. VERY PROUD."

Then, they kiss. Simple as that. But it soon revealed that they have both been busy stealing one another's possessions. And like a game of strip poker, items are revealed one after another: his wallet, her pin. The excitement within the audience grows as much as the one between our cons. The game ends and another begins as she realized she has been unmasked, by nonother than another criminal. She cries out, "DARLING! TELL ME, TELL ME ALL ABOUT YOURSELF. WHO ARE YOU?"

I.


It is a comedy about three characters, with comic relief with the use of supporting roles. These three characters, our two thieves and a rich widow. These characters are smooth, sophisticated, a gentlemanly elegance that oozes off each movement and sentence. Impossible beings, clean and polished. Gliding around doorframes and finding just the right light, no matter the situation. As if they were made up characters in their own world. 

Herbert Marshell plays a gentleman jewel thief, who is charming and irresistible, swindling his way into the richest of groups. Miriam Hopkins is the con-woman who adores him, and the rich widow is nonother than Kay Francis, who believes she can purchase him. The three of them exist in a world of butlers, grand hotels, wall safes, exquisite costumes, sweeping art deco staircases, and lots and lots of jewels. And however veiled, the three of them are not without their faults. 

The "love-triangle" a common trope within our films of the late couple of decades, is a favorite device of our short, cigar-chewing director. The film critic Greg S. Faller notes that the German-born director liked stories in which, "an essentially solid relationship is temporarily threatened by a sexual rival." This is a perfect note about this film in particular. Our two thieves are destined for one another. Their personal aspects are similar as well as the fact that their work is a team project and for the other note is that their professions make it impossible for them to trust others. The sexual rival comes into the picture when Gaston meets Madame Mariette Colet when he is to return the purse he had stolen from her to claim the large sum as the reward. Instant attracted is introduced, he becomes interested in her, in her lustful presence. Though one can see a problem arising with each pacing second, it would seem, behind the instant attraction is the thought that crosses both their faces, that this will not last. 

Herbert Marshall, who's character we follow through most of the picture, takes these simple scenes and fills them with sophisticated banter and tension because of his presence, how he withholds himself from the emotion script. At forty-two when he made the film, he is not boyish, but handsome in a subdued manner. Each strand of hair slicked close to his scalp, a sharp sleeve, and cigarette smoke through his words, all come together with the slight dip of his shoulders as if bowing to his women. He understands the power that a first and last impression can have; he lost a leg in WWI and had a wooden one fitted, practicing the smooth, deliberate, float-like movements. He gives a richness to the banter, with the use of dialogue by Samson Raphaelson, Lubitsch's frequent partner. The actresses as well as have a fresh, refined sense of themselves against that of our charming thief. 

He floats into the home of our widow, into a waiting room of reward-seeking hopefuls. He gives the diamond-encrusted purse back for the reward, then he insinuates himself into her trust, giving her advice on lipstick shades and her choice of romance. The dialogue is sharp and daring in its insinuations: 

"IF I WERE YOUR FATHER, WHICH FORTUNATELY I AM NOT," HE SAYS, "AND YOU MADE ANY ATTEMPT TO HANDLE YOUR ON BUSINESS AFFAIRS, I WOULD GIVE YOU A GOOD SPANKING. IN A BUSINESS WAY, OF COURSE."

"WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE MY SECRETARY?"

"THE SAME THING."

"YOU'RE HIRED."


II.

IF THE SCRIPT WAS TURNED UP EVEN JUST A NOTCH, we could have entered into the delightful but not fitting of this kind of film, screwball. It was if Lubitsch kept the picture at a constant simmer, a sensuous simmer. Screwballs, though fun and exciting, are more exaggerated and at times the dialogue flies over the character's head. TROUBLE IN PARADISE does the complete opposite; the film is a product of elegance, with the low toned voices of Francis and Marshall, the dialogue with these two, brings there characters closer, understanding their meanings, how each word means something else. This is possible as our thief never once takes the widow he robbed as a naive, spoiled rich girl. I believe he knows that she knows what this is the whole thing is about, though she never mentions it. He, on the other hand, smiles almost constant when he lies, letting his victims have a peek through the crack in the door of his con talent. She is a calm, self-assured woman with the walk of a sphinx, and he begins to like her, even as he deceives her. 


"THE LUBITSCH TOUCH" was never coined or used by the great director. A press agent's phrase that stuck for decades to come. Perhaps at the time audiences and critics saw something unique within his films, a specific scene or idea, perhaps use of a prop or effect, these are the common ones. 
Or perhaps, the overall effect.  The use of his own personal style. The first meeting as I mentioned above is a fine example of the touch, with all that happens, we still believe in the characters and even care about them. I believe the touch is much more complex than that. He took scrips and actors and ideas and created something unique, with his fluid camera and comic material that is given structure and wit. All of the characters in his films have a sense of long lives lived before we met them, all walking with a weight on their shoulders, good or bad. Andrew Sarris, trying to define the touch, said it was a:

"counterpoint of sadness during a film's gayest moments." 


In Lubitsch's pre-code masterpiece, you can sure to be dazzled with masterful innuendos, clever visual gags, and the law-of-attraction, a combination that has made this picture one of the great works of cinema and one of the director's most charming models of sophistication, art, and movie-styled elegance. The perfect combination of a 1930's pre-code picture.