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  Trouble in Paradise

rating: (out of 4 stars)

United States; 1932
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch; produced by Ernst Lubitsch; written by Samson Raphaelson
Starring Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall, Charles Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton, C. Aubrey Smith

'Trouble in Paradise' is one of the most delightful comedies of the thirties, in my opinion only topped by the best work of the Marx Brothers ('Duck Soup', 'A Night at the Opera') and William Powell ('The Thin Man', 'My Man Godfrey'). The interaction between leading characters played by Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis, including a lot of sexually charged dialogue, is brilliantly directed by Ernst Lubitsch. This film is a terrific example of the never clearly defined "Lubitsch touch".

Marshall is master thief Gaston Monescu, Hopkins is Lily, a woman with the same occupation. They fall in love in one of the most terrific scenes in the film, where at first they present themselves as noble people, before they reveal the things they have stolen from eachother. Together they decide they want to steal part of the fortune of Madame Colet (Francis). The plan involves Gaston's way with women to talk himself into the job as Colet's secretary and Lily as his assistant. Madame Colet of course falls for the man, and in a way he for her, but it is pretty clear he is meant to be with his fellow-thief.

The film plays almost entirely between the rich and famous, making everything sophiticated. Not only the appearance, the dialogue as well. When the sexuel referrences are thrown in, this way of delivering lines brings both comedy and another kind of tension to it. The film opens with only a part of the title, "trouble in", and a bed is shown under it. Only then "paradise" appears too. Lubitsch sets the tone with this single shot, and he keeps it this way all through the film. The shadows of two lovers seen on a bed, the way Marshall always seem to lean into the women he speaks with, the way his camera insinuates without telling.

The performances are important to make this material work. Somehow you have the feeling the three lead characters constantly know what's going on, not just by their dialogue, but by the way they move, speak, smile. Lily is not happy about the attractiveness of Colet, Colet suspects things are not as they seem with Gaston, and he seems in control of the whole situation, except for the fact he really likes Colet. Marshall lost a leg in WW-I and his practice to walk on his wooden leg seem to make him glide through a room, almost as smooth as Lubitsch camera does while filming it. Here it fits perfectly. This is a near-perfect comedy.

  Review by Reinier Verhoef