Saturday, June 11, 2011

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

In the history of cinema is comes to be known that most directors have a distinct style within their body of work. If you were to think of it a little you would understand that there are specific "feelings" that coincide with a director's style. Spielberg has a style all his own. So does Alfred Hitchcock. Martin Scorsese. too, has a movie type that you can say is his own. The same can be said of D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille, Roman Polanski, and Christopher Nolan. Each of these directors had their own touch in their particular films that one may be able to decipher by simply sitting down and observing a movie. One of film's earlier successful directors that had a style all his own was Ernst Lubitsch which would coin its own phrase, "the Lubitsch Touch."  When looking back on his body of work years many years later, we see the film Trouble in Paradise as perhaps his first and finest example of what made "the Lubitsch Touch" and just how brilliant of a director he truly was.

Trouble in Paradise is a romantic comedy about two cons, how they fall in love and work with each other as they attempt to steal a fortune from a wealthy woman leading to a complicated love triangle. Gaston (Herbert Marshall) is an infamous con man who disguises himself as a noble baron, but meets his love in Lilly (Miriam Hopkins) after they each tried to con each other respectfully. The two move from Venice to Paris where they try their next rip-off from the wealthy Madame Colet (Kay Francis), widow and owner of the largest perfume company in Paris. Gaston and Lilly's job has them deep into the mix with Colet's company in hope to soon make one big cash-grab and flee with a small fortune. The con has Gaston become Colet's secretary as well as her love interest. Colet and Gaston's affair soon become too much for Lilly when the truth about Gaston's crooked self is revealed to Colet through one of her desperate suitors, Fran├žois (Edward Everett Horton), who Gaston conned back in Venice, where Gaston and Lilly first met. Heartbreak abounds between Gaston and Colet as the two separate, Colet letting Gaston and Lilly go before police were to arrive because she loves him so much. In their flight from justice Gaston and Lilly renew their playful, loving relationship that drew them together as it once did in Venice. They escape in love.

The picture itself is enjoyable. Unlike Lubitsch's previous American films, Trouble in Paradise is not a musical, but rather a straight up romantic comedy without musical interludes. Beautifully written, shot, and composed, the picture has moments of laughter that are brought on my means of cleverness. The film, or rather Lubitsch, does not talk down to the audience, but it contains a clever story with equally clever exposition. I found myself laughing before the punchlines were given, because the story allows the audience to anticipate what will happen before it plays out. I say that in a good way, because many times a predicable film can be rather dull and uninteresting. Lubitsch on the other hand takes anticipation much like Hitchcock takes to suspense in his films, you know what information will be discovered, but lean in to see what will happen to the characters. The film is rather brilliant when you think about how some of the major plot points are not ever seen, but implied, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks with their creative minds. An example is seen in the early in the picture when Gaston robs Colet of her very expensive bag. We see the bag with Colet, then the aftermath of losing the bag, followed by Gaston inconspicuously walking away, allowing the us to fill in the action of what we knew happened. The best description of the picture is that it intelligent for the sake of those that do not need to see everything, but can understand through subtleties.

As said before, this picture would be a prime example of "the Lubitsch Touch" at work. What is "the Lubitsch Touch?" Well it is very much what I described in the previous paragraph. It is a sense of sophistication that does not talk down to audiences. Let me describe an example that explains how Lubitsch works that will manifest the his creativity. When Lubitsch would begin a project he liked to write the beginning of the film first and not move on until it felt right. The start of the film set the tone and location for a picture. In the very opening scene of Trouble in Paradise we are to be introduced to the setting being Venice. Instead of doing a vista shot of the city and canals or simply placing a title card stating we are in Venice, we watch a trash collector picks up a trash can and dump it into his gondola in the canal before he starts singing in Italian. Thus we are told we are in Venice. That is Lubitsch. He let us discover what is going on, letting us be part of the creative process as seen in the bag snatching scene. Even his dialogue is sophisticated and creative. The way Gaston talks to his waiter in the open of the film shows us the type of man he is. He manifests to us so much about the man in such few words, that he is smart, understanding, romantic, optimistic, yet cautious. All that is said in ordering his dinner and how he wants it served. Lubitsch was a director of sophistication in that he believes the audience can understand most of what is not directly said.

With the help of the actor-turned-director Lubitsch, the cast does a wonderful job on their own. It is said that Lubitsch acted out everything for his cast, so that they will copy his actions. The picture stars Miriam Hopkins, who he worked with with in the Smiling Lieutenant and played a promiscuous lady in other pictures. She would go on to long career in the business. Kay Francis, who played Colet, would be on her way to being one of the 1930s more successful actresses mainly under Warner Bros. before her life would lead down various personal roads as her acting declined. Herbert Marshall, a British actor who made a transition to Hollywood, played his roles flawlessly despite the use of a prosthetic leg needed after the loss of the limb in WWI. The main cast would be supported C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Ruggles, and Edward Everett Horton each to who take well to roles of comedic relief as well as story exposition. It would be a great cast.

The Pre-Code picture that Trouble in Paradise was allowed it to play with morals more than the films that were made in the coming years after the production code would go into effect in 1935. The film does have much innuendo as it deals with sexual relationships, mainly between Colet and Gaston. Even the opening title at first opens at "Trouble in..."  and presents and bed before the word "Paradise" appears tells you the story is really called "Trouble in Bed." Some shots would be cleverly done. We even see one were shadows of the characters talking are cast on a bed, ensuing pillow talk. Then there is the straight forward affair with Colet and Gaston as they come and go with each other manifesting a very physical relationship, even though nothing beyond and very passionate kiss is seen. The film even allowed the con artists to get away as they are the "heroes", an idea that the production code would not allow. The picture is filled with these instances which would be troublesome once the production code did come into play. The movie would be taken out of circulation after 1935 because of the code and would not be seen again until 1968. That tells you just how censored Hollywood would be for a time.

Trouble in Paradise would be a very successful film for its time. It would not win any awards , but would be one of Paramount's greater successes of 1932 as well as being named to various lists at its time as one the year's finest film, included the New York Times top films of the year list. After disappearing for many years the film would be more or less forgotten by mainstream audiences, despite it being one of Ernst Lubitsch's finest films. Lubitsch would even consider it to be his favorite picture. Sadly with the passage of time, both the film and the filmmaker would be forgotten in mainstream Hollywood, with the exception of the clssic movie lovers. It is important to note how good of a picture and director we have in Trouble in Paradise. Lubitsch would help in creating the musical genre as well as the Lubitsch Touch, but his work would not be remembered as much as the counterparts that would follow. This is a sad fact as Lubitsch would be key force in creating how movies would be understood by audiences through the 20th century.

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