For over seven decades this film has been unmatched in the realm of sophisticated farce. Films from THE AWFUL TRUTH to THE LADY EVE to SOME LIKE IT HOT are sublime on their more modest social scale and in their basic Americanness. By contrast, TROUBLE IN PARADISE has all the class and Continental
elegance one associates with the Paramout of the 1930s. Made before the Production Code clampdown of 1934, this Lubitsch masterpiece shows his talent for sly sexual innuendo at its most witty and polished. The result is pure caviar, only tastier.
The story tells of two jewel thieves, Gaston (Marshall) and Lily (Hopkins), who together work at bilking a merry widow, Mariette Colet (Francis), out of a small fortune. They secure jobs as her secretary and maid, but trouble begins in paradise when Gaston starts falling for his lovely prey and
when one of her many suitors (Horton), a former victim of Gaston's, begins to recognize Mme. Colet's new secretary.
The many laughs in this consistently delightful souffle come not only from Raphaelson's marvelous screenplay but also from Lubitsch's supple visual wit. On one hand there's delightful repartee about a former secretary who enjoyed an antique bed a bit too much, and on the other we have the sexy
silhouette of Gaston and Mariette cast over a chaise lounge. From the opening shot of an operatic gondolier who turns out to be a garbageman to a police report about theft and tonsils translated for Italian officials, this film is full of unforgettable moments of merriment.
The cast, too, is peerless. In one of his earliest Hollywood efforts, Herbert Marshall does the greatest work of his career. Too often maligned for playing stodgy consorts to dynamic star actresses such as Garbo, Davis, and Shearer, Marshall here gets to display his impeccable timing and supple
grace. Frequently hilarious, his quiet approach and crushed velvet voice still let him remain suave throughout. Even Cary Grant would be hard pressed to match this portrayal. (He'd be too frantic.) Kay Francis, too, that popular sufferer of countless "women's films" with her "twoublesome" r's,
gives of her very best. With her sleek, glamorous style and elegantly wry line readings, she is light, sexy, and totally captivating. Her doorway caresses and her finger-snapping seduction of Gaston are priceless. Miriam Hopkins was luckier in that she had many more chances to display her comic
flair in film. Today one of the most underrated and unfairly maligned stars of the 1930s, the brittle, feisty Hopkins can rattle off witty banter at a breakneck pace or she can be deliciously languorous and coy. Her enjoyment of her own sexuality is heady even today and the thieving competition
between Gaston and Lily, in which escalating crimes turn into escalating passion, remains one of the greatest scenes of foreplay ever caught on film. Ruggles and Horton prove yet again that they are two of the greatest farceurs in Hollywood, and the rest of the cast is equally choice. (One
standout is Leonid Kinskey, whose bit as a leftist radical only foregrounds the satiric anarchy of the entire film.) Beautifully handled from start to finish, gleamingly shot and full of Dreier's incredible Art Deco designs, TROUBLE IN PARADISE is Lubitsch's greatest film and one of the
indisputable highlights of comic cinema.
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