One would be hard put to actually describe the legendary “Lubitsch Touch”—it’s as much attitude as style—but one only need watch Trouble in Paradise (1932) to see the smooth elegance, continental wit, and winking innuendo that defines it.
Quite possibly the most sparkling and sexy romantic comedy ever made, this perfect comedy stars Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins as Gaston and Lily, smooth jewel thieves who meet cute: they rob one another over a dinner date. Lubitsch transforms the play of picked pockets and stolen jewelry into foreplay and soon they are working the wealthy rubes of Europe’s hot spots as a team.
Their latest target is Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), a flighty heiress who owns a successful perfume company in Paris, but it hits a snag when Gaston charms his way into her life and her finances and then falls in love with his mark.
Lubitsch creates his films in the fantasy of wealth and splendor (this one begins in Venice and travels to gay Paree), but the desires of his characters—romance power, money, sex—are utterly earthy, and he’s a keen observer of human behavior, which he transforms into dazzling, deft comedy. For the 80 minutes of this film, he transforms Marshall in the most suave and romantic lover on the planet, a man who could talk a girl out of her heart, her fortune, and her clothes.
Lubitsch is never so coarse as to show it, but with a little shadow and wordplay and the most graceful edits of the golden age of Hollywood, he can suggest anyone into bed.
Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton play the frustrated would-be suitors, Robert Greig plays the loyal butler, and C. Aubrey Smith costars.
It was added to the National Film Registry in 1991.
Black and white
Leaves Criterion Channel at the end of May. Add to My List on Criterion Channel
Also available on DVD in a deluxe Criterion edition but currently unavailable on VOD.
Trouble in Paradise (The Criterion Channel) [DVD]
As of this writing, its only home video release is a 2003 Criterion Collection DVD special edition, which also features commentary by Lubitsch biographer Scott Eyman, an introduction by Peter Bogdanovich, Lubitsch’s 1917 German silent comedy Das Fidel Gefangnis (aka The Merry Jail), and a 1940 “Screen Guild Theater” radio comedy starring Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert, Basil Rathbone, and Ernst Lubitsch all playing themselves in an extended, show-long skit, plus a foldout insert with essays and film notes.