Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)

This bored the hell out of me as I was watching it…there’s really nothing worse in 2009 than stuff that was meant to be funny, or dare I say stretched the societally-acceptable limits, of what could be implied as being funny, in 1932.  Stuff like romance and horror are genetically imprinted in every human from every era, so the sensation of fear or love will never change, whether it’s 1932 or 2009, but I’m sorry, to me at least, comedy just doesn’t fare nearly as well.  What’s funny then and what’s funny now just changes (then again, I thought 1934’s “The Thin Man”…and Chaplin, and Keaton, and Lloyd, were hysterical, so everything I’ve just written is pretty much bogus, but I’m too lazy to erase it all and come up with a more legit introduction.  Consider this an opportunity to completely discredit me and stop reading  ), so what can I say, elegant, romantic parlor humor in the vein of Ernst Lubitsch just doesn’t tickle my funny bone.  But you know what, I said that things like romance and lust are eternal while societal humor might not be, which is why I did find something universally endearing about “Trouble in Paradise.”  I had no use for nonsense like a bunch of well-dressed non-English-speaking men saying ‘tonsils’ over and over again, and by all rights I should’ve been irritated to all hell by these formal people with wit up the wazoo, but in any case, I was still able to identify, to an extent, with the anything-but-original premise of a couple of con artists/lovers ingratiating themselves with a rich widow to rip her off, and then the man unexpectedly falling for the widow.   Yes, I was bored, but after sleeping on it, I don’t think I gave this movie its due because of how it portrays romance and sexual tension.  Of course it’s completely tame by today’s standards, but then you consider how this movie was practically banned for years because of the Hayes Code, and then you consider some of the clearly risqué one-liners and the physical expressions of passion, and then you put yourself in 1932 America, and man, this must’ve been some heavy stuff!  Herbert Marshall, as the impossibly charming thief Gaston Monescu, is kinda like a poor man’s William Powell – not quite as quick or clever with the one-liners as Powell’s Nick Charles, but just as charming and endearing – when he needs to be.  You can see why Kay Francis’s Madame Colet swoons for him, and boy, some of their back-and-forths are pretty racy – their impact went completely over my head as I watched, but then thinking about it afterwards, all the double-meanings of their words, and the subtleties of their body language as they slowly move within orbit of each other in tantalizing anticipation of a kiss that might or might not happen, would’ve driven audiences wild in ’32 – I just took my more sexually liberal 2009 standards for granted and plain missed it.  Their unlikely courtship is certainly predictable, as is the less than enthusiastic response from Gaston Monescu’s partner in crime Lily, played by the absolutely lovely, albeit somewhat shrill, Miriam Hopkins (her wearing glasses when she plays secretary for Madame Colet made me swoon the way Madame Colet swoons for Gaston Monescu  ).  Nevertheless, I invested myself in these characters, felt the passion oozing out of the screen thanks to some wonderful chemistry between all three characters (an early scene in which Lily and Gaston learn of each other’s dubious ‘professions’ is close to being wonderful), even if the jokes and the comedy didn’t do it for me.  And yeah, I suppose I can see why Lubitsch is the director everyone goes ga-ga over, what with the subtly elegant and unobtrusive yet intimate camera during conversations and those sweeping pans of the outside of buildings, or at least scale models of buildings (which I didn’t like…surface style, blech), but as far as I’m concerned, this was all about one of the more convincing and realistic birth and blossom of a romance that I’ve seen in the otherwise unreal world of comedy, thanks to some great chemistry, which in turn allows for a pretty great triangle of love and deceit.  When all is said and done, this might be the best comedy I’ve ever seen that never, ever made me laugh, whatever THAT’s worth  .


1 comment so far

  1. Craig Clarke on

    This is my favorite movie. That you didn’t laugh is fine — a series of smiles is usually all it gets from me. The reason I watch it over and over is the relationships of the characters, which you did seem to latch on to. Your review is honest and thoughtful. Well done.

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